This information concerning clergy/congregation mandated reporter requirements for suspected child abuse has been provided by Masters of Social Work students at Temple University. Many thanks to Christina Weber, the MSW student who coordinated this effort.
Frequently Asked Questions about Mandated Reporting and Resources for Child Abuse Information
What does the Pennsylvania law regarding mandated reporting actually say and how does it relate to clergy-penitent confidentiality?
The Pennsylvania law regarding mandated reporting enumerates clergy as mandated reporters, however, it does uphold clergy-penitent confidentiality privileges in pastoral communications (i.e. in counseling sessions and the confessional booth). Practically, this means that if a member of the clergy suspects a child is being abused he is mandated to report it, but if a member of his congregation confesses to abusing a child in a counseling session where a reasonable assumption of privacy is present, that clergy is not mandated by law to report what he/she has been told. Only clergy and attorney’s are granted this confidentiality exception to the law.
For additional state by state clergy mandated reporting laws visit this link: http://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/clergymandated.cfm.
Who within my congregation qualifies as a mandated reporter?
- The Child Protective Services Law specifies that any individual who comes into contact with children in the course of his or her work or professional practice is a mandated reporter.
- Non-paid and voluntary personnel who perform services for the Church should also consider themselves to be mandated reporters if they come into contact with children during the course of their volunteer Church work.
- The reporting mandate is restricted to those children with whom the mandated reporter comes into contact through work or through the institution with which the reporter is associated. The abused child must actually be “under the care, supervision, guidance or training of [the mandated reporter] or of an agency, institution, organization or other entity with which that person is affiliated.”
- Examples of children considered by the CPSL to be under the care or supervision of a Church entity would include school and CCD students, children enrolled in child-care programs, children being “babysat” during worship services or gatherings, children participating in Church-related youth ministries or sports programs, Catholic Charities’ clients and health care patients.
You will find the CPSL here:
What Number do I call to report suspected abuse?
ChildLine is the 24-hour toll free telephone reporting system operated by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to receive reports of suspected child abuse.
Do I need to have proof of abuse before I call?
Only suspicion, not proof, is needed to report abuse. A mandated reporter need not make a first-hand observation of the suspected child abuse. Second-hand reports of abuse must be reported to the proper authorities if the mandated reporter has “reasonable cause to suspect” that child abuse has occurred.
What happens when I call Childline- can I remain confidential?
The CPSL specifically grants legal immunity to any individual who, in good faith, makes a report of suspected child abuse. The ChildLine system allows for non-mandated reporter calls to be made anonymously but it is helpful to any subsequent investigation to have the name and phone number of the reporting individual. Mandated reporters are required to give their contact information but that information must remain confidential within the investigating agencies as specified by the CPSL.
For more information on confidentiality following a call to ChildLine, please visit: http://www.pa-fsa.org/mandated_reporters/child_abuse_information/reporting_suspected_child_abus.aspx.
What sort of process does a call to ChildLine initiate?
- ChildLine forwards the report of suspected child abuse to the local county children and youth agency, which investigates the report to determine if the allegations can be substantiated as child abuse/neglect and also arranges for or provides the services that are needed to prevent the further maltreatment of the child and to preserve the family unity.
- Once a call has been made, the county children and youth agency must begin an investigation within 24 hours. A thorough inquiry is conducted to determine if the child was abused and what services are appropriate for the child and family.
- Mandated reporters must also complete a report of suspected child abuse (CY 47). This form can be obtained from the children and youth agency in your county and must be submitted within 48 hours to the county agency. However, it is acceptable to submit the information in letter form.
You will be able to find your county children and youth office by using this link: http://www.dpw.state.pa.us/findfacilsandlocs/countychildrenandyouthdirectory/index.htm.
Or you can download the form here.
What happens if I choose not to call Childline and deal with the allegations within the congregation?
A mandated reporter who is convicted of willfully failing to report or refer suspected child abuse is guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree. A second or subsequent offense is a misdemeanor of the second degree. The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor of the third degree is $2,500 and/or one year in jail; for a misdemeanor of the second degree it is a $5,000 and/or two years in jail.
What resources are available to help train my staff and volunteers regarding abuse allegations and mandated reporting?
For a list of Pennsylvania-specific materials and training resources or to schedule an in-person Department of Public Welfare training (free for most organizations) visit the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance at: http://www.pa-fsa.org/mandated_reporters/training_materials__resources.aspx
Additional Pennsylvania-specific sites with information on abuse related issues:
Information compiled by Temple University M.S.W. Students