See Something, Say Something, 0915 SCBJ, SC Lawyer, September 2015, #20

Author:By Shawn D. Eubanks
 
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See Something, Say Something

Vol. 27 Issue 2 Pg. 20

South Carolina BAR Journal

September, 2015

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting in South Carolina

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0 By Shawn D. Eubanks

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0You've seen the situation on television a hundred times: a kid shows up to school with bruises on his upper arm. Despite his attempts to hide them, a teacher notices and asks him about them.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0"I fell down the stairs, " he says, apparently unaware of how cliche his explanation will sound to his teacher.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0The teacher, whether by intuition or the child's admission, determines that the bruises are from an abusive father. She involves the police, they rescue the child from the violent household, and she is a hero.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0As we all know, however, television has a tendency to make everything (including the practice of law) seem easier than it really is, and this situation is no different. In real life, professionals in South Carolina are daily faced with the challenge of assessing the cause of childrens' injuries, both physical and emotional. They are tasked with a legal duty to report child abuse and neglect. If they fail to report, they can face a number of repercussions including a misdemeanor conviction and fine, loss of their professional certification or licensing, and the stress that accompanies the knowledge that they failed to help a child escape a violent situation.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Who has to report?

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Of course, the first question to be answered is "Who has to report?" The good news is that lawyers aren't on the list (although the statute encourages everyone to report child abuse when they see it).

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0The "other" news is that pretty much everyone else who might conceivably interact with children at work is on the list. To wit, S.C. Code § 63-7-310(A) provides this litany:

... physician, nurse, dentist, optometrist, medical examiner, or coroner, or an employee of a county medical examiner's or coroner's office, or any other medical, emergency medical services, mental health, or allied health professional, member of the clergy including a Christian Science Practitioner or religious healer, school teacher, counselor, principal, assistant principal, school attendance officer, social or public assistance worker, substance abuse treatment staff, or childcare worker in a childcare center or foster care facility, foster parent, police or law enforcement officer, juvenile justice worker, undertaker, funeral home director or employee of a funeral home, persons responsible for processing films, computer technician, judge, or a volunteer non-attomey guardian ad litem serving on behalf of the South Carolina Guardian Ad Litem Program or on behalf of Richland County CASA ...

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0The important thing to note here is that the statute lists individuals, not organizations. The duty to report is personal. If the client suspects child abuse, she must report "out, " not "up." In the scenario from the introduction, for example, South Carolina law would require the teacher to report the child abuse herself. She could certainly discuss it with her principal first (and if she asked me I would advise her to do exactly that), but notifying her supervisor would not fulfill her statutory duty to report. This is true even if the organization has a policy that dictates otherwise because, of course, state law supersedes local policy.

\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Another important caveat is that the statute only applies to these individuals when they are receiving the information in their "professional capacity"1 Seems straightforward enough until one tweaks the fact pattern above: the teacher sees a student from her class and his father at the grocery store. She approaches them to say hello, but before she...

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