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Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting

In the wake of the child abuse tragedy at Penn State, Oregon passed legislation expanding its mandatory child abuse reporter list to include ALL employees of colleges and universities. This new law took effect January 1, 2013, and is both a professional and personal obligation. It is important that all PSU faculty and staff understand their child abuse reporting obligations with the advent of this new law. (HB 4016, ORS 419B.010)

SUMMARY OF LEGISLATIVE CHANGES

Certain PSU employees (child care workers, medical care providers, lawyers) have always been considered “public and private officials” covered under Oregon’s mandatory abuse reporting law. For those individuals, nothing has changed. What’s new is that the law now defines ALL university employees as “public and private officials” making them mandatory child abuse reporters as well.  This includes student employees and paid graduate assistants.  The law does not cover PSU volunteers, contractors, or students who are not employees (unless, unrelated to PSU, they happen to work in a profession that is otherwise covered by the law).

The video above is excerpted from a Department of Human Resources Mandatory Reporter training video. The longer video runs roughly 25 minutes, and provides additional information to explain what it means to be a mandatory reporter.  

CHILD ABUSE REPORTING OBLIGATION

You must immediately report to the Department of Human Services (DHS) or law enforcement* if you have “reasonable cause to believe” that any child with whom you come into contact has suffered abuse, or that any person with whom you come into contact has abused a child.

* PSU's Campus Public Safety Office (CPSO) is not considered "law enforcement" for purposes of this reporting obligation.

24/7 PERSONAL OBLIGATION

It is important to understand that the child abuse reporting obligation is a personal obligation, and goes beyond the workplace. This means that you are a mandatory child abuse reporter 24/7, and you are required to report suspected child abuse anytime, anywhere. In other words, whether you learn of suspected abuse or a suspected abuser while at work, while coaching your child’s soccer team, or when shopping for groceries on the weekend, your reporting obligation is the same.

REPORTS RELATED TO PSU

PSU also requires that you report the incident to your supervisor when you encounter suspected abuse or a suspected abuser while acting in your official capacity as a PSU employee. This is IN ADDITION to your obligation to report to DHS or law enforcement.   

Supervisors who receive such reports should notify PSU's CPSO of all suspected abuse which is reported to have occurred on campus or that is otherwise related to PSU.

WHO IS CONSIDERED A "CHILD?"

A child is any unmarried person under 18 years of age.  This includes PSU students who are under 18. 

HOW TO MAKE A REPORT

If a child is in immediate danger of harm, call 911.  

Reports should be made orally in the county where the reporter is located at the time of the suspicious contact. You can reach Multnomah County’s abuse reporting line 24 hours a day by calling 503-731-3100 local, or 800-509-5439 toll free.   A report to law enforcement will also meet the reporting obligation.  Law enforcement and DHS work together, so you may report to either. 

DHS or law enforcement will keep your identity confidential unless ordered by a court to disclose the information. (ORS 419B.015)

Here is a link to reporting information for other Oregon counties.  For reports in Washington, Clark County's child abuse hotline number is (800) 562-5624.

WHAT THE REPORT SHOULD INCLUDE

You need only provide information you have available.  You should not investigate to obtain missing information. If known, helpful information to provide includes:

  • name and age of the child
  • nature and extent of abuse, including evidence of previous abuse
  • explanation given for the abuse
  • names and addresses of the child’s parents or others responsible for the child’s care.
  • other helpful information to establish the cause of the abuse or the identity of the perpetrator

CONSEQUENCES FOR FAILURE TO REPORT

A failure to report is a Class A criminal violation of the law and carries a maximum penalty of $2,000. Some mandatory reporters have also been sued for damages in civil court for failure to report.

Failure to report suspected abuse or a suspected abuser you encounter while acting in your official capacity as a PSU employee is also grounds for discipline, up to and including termination.

WHAT IS CONSIDERED ABUSE

Below is a summary of what is generally considered abuse. The complete legal definition (ORS 491B.005) can be viewed here.

  • Physical injury, caused by other than accidental means, including an injury that appears to be at variance with the explanation given for the injury.
  • Mental injury, which includes only observable and substantial mental impairment caused by cruelty, with due regard to the culture of the child.
  • Sexual abuse, including rape, sodomy, unlawful sexual penetration or incest.
  • Exploitation, including prostitution or the sexual delinquency of a minor or any conduct that allows or encourages a child to perform sexual acts for observation, photographing, filming, etc.
  • Neglect, including failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter or medical care that is likely to endanger the child’s health or welfare.
  • Threatened harm, meaning subjecting a child to a substantial risk of harm to the child’s health or safety, including exposing a child to the manufacture of methamphetamines or to any controlled substance that subjects a child to a substantial risk of harm.
  • Buying or selling a person under 18 years of age.

“Abuse” does not include reasonable discipline unless the discipline results in one of the conditions described above.

WHAT IF THE ABUSE OCCURRED A LONG TIME AGO?

Report suspected abuse of anyone who is a child at the time of the report.  

If you reasonably believe that a person with whom you have come into contact abused a child in the past, you should still report if you believe there is a danger of future harm against another child.

DO I HAVE TO HAVE PROOF?

You must report any time you have "reasonable cause" to believe a child was abused.  You don't have to be sure, or have proof.  Your report will allow a trained professional to make an assessment.  If you have questions about whether to report, please contact your local DHS office, and they will assist you in making that determination.

CONFIDENTIALITY & IMMUNITY FROM LIABILITY FOR MAKING A GOOD FAITH REPORT

Reports are generally confidential, except under court order.  Anyone participating in good faith in making a child abuse report has immunity from any criminal or civil liability. This immunity is also in place with respect to participation in any subsequent judicial proceeding. (ORS 419B.025)

AFTER THE REPORT

DHS will evaluate the information and in many circumstances, reporters are entitled to obtain general information after the report about how the report was handled.

LINKS TO OTHER RESOURCES

In addition to the Mandatory Reporter training video excerpted above, DHS has links to other materials, including a n FAQ page, "Questions and Answers about Reporting Abuse and Neglect," and a booklet entitled "What You Can Do About Child Abuse."  We encourage you to visit the DHS website and review the additional support materials to gain confidence in your new role as a mandatory reporter.

WHO TO CONTACT WITH QUESTIONS ABOUT MANDATORY CHILD ABUSE REPORTING

Cindy Starke
Assistant General Counsel
Office of the General Counsel
cstarke@pdx.edu
(503) 725-2639
Lisa Wittorff
Coordinator of Services for Students with Children
Student Affairs
l.wittorff@pdx.edu
(503) 725-5623