Many mandated reporters of child abuse wonder if they have to make reports about cases they learn about where the abuse happened years ago. Mandated reporters in most states are only required to make a report of suspected child abuse (including physical and sexual abuse) when the victim is still a child, regardless of how long ago the victimization occurred.
In cases where the victimization happened when the person was a child, but that person is now 18 years or older, the mandated reporter usually is not required to make a report to child protective services (CPS). This is because CPS is only empowered to intervene in situations where they are seeking to protect an existing child from harm; when the alleged victim is now an adult, CPS is limited in how they can intervene. However, there are a number of situations where the mandated reporter might still be required to make a report.
Attention on Past Abuse
Over 20 years ago investigative reporters for the Boston Globe newspaper uncovered hundreds of child sexual abuse cases that were inadequately responded to by the Catholic church over many decades. Their coverage of these cases resulted in hundreds of criminal prosecutions and convictions, and greater awareness of the widespread impact of child sexual abuse across the country, and around the world.
The work of the Boston Globe led to other investigations into churches, youth organizations, and school systems. For instance, Pennsylvania authorities uncovered long-term, widespread, cover-up of child sexual abuse perpetrated by a Penn State football coach, Jerry Sandusky. Additionally, the bravery of hundreds of gymnasts coming forward to report sexual abuse resulted in the criminal conviction of long-time team doctor, Jerry Nasser, and an overhaul of the USA Gymnastics program, and youth sports programs across the country.
Ultimately, many of these investigations found thousands of cases of child sexual abuse where systems that were legally, ethically, and morally responsible to protect children from victimization failed in their obligations. As a result, many states, including New York, have passed "Adult Survivor" laws that allow adults who were victimized in their childhoods an opportunity to file civil law suits against individuals or institutions that were complicit in their victimization. These laws are often time-limited, and rarely impact a mandated reporter's obligation. Instead, these laws are designed to provide the adult victim the opportunity to seek restitution for past abuse that is otherwise no longer possible under existing statutes of limitations.
When Are Reports of Past Abuse Required?
Reports of past child abuse might be required of a mandated reporter, even when the alleged victim is now 18 years old, or over. If the mandated reporter determines based on information of past abuse that a child currently under the age of 18 is presently at risk of child abuse, they would be required to make a report to CPS. For instance, if an adult client reports that they were sexually victimized as a child by a parent or guardian, and that they have a younger sibling still living in the home with the perpetrator, then the mandated reporter might determine that they have adequate suspicion related to the sibling's risk of victimization to require a report to CPS.
Can I Make a Report of Past Abuse Even if the Report Isn't Required?
In cases of child physical abuse, it is likely impossible for the mandated reporter to make a report to CPS regarding past abuse when the victim is no longer a child, and there is no child currently at risk of abuse.
In cases of child sexual abuse, however, it is possible for the mandated reporter to make such a report of past abuse, but not to CPS. The report of past child sexual abuse, in some cases, could be reported to law enforcement, or the police department. Credible concerns especially related to sexual abuse perpetrated by educators, clergy, and other community leaders who still have access to children are important to be reported, regardless of how far past the abuse might have occurred.
As a mandated reporter:
If you develop adequate suspicions of sexual abuse and the alleged victim is still a child (under the age of 18) then you are required to make a report to CPS.
If you develop adequate suspicions of sexual abuse, but the alleged victim is no longer a child, then you are, likely, only required to make a report if you have concerns for the safety of a child currently under the age of 18. However, you might be able to make a report to law enforcement.
If you have questions about your options, you can contact the child protective services hotline in your state. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION