Duty to report child abuse

Periodically, the Indiana State Library receives requests for information about whether library staff have an obligation to report suspected child abuse. This Q & A attempts to address the most common questions regarding this subject.

Are library staff required to report suspected child abuse or neglect?
(See IC 31-33-5-1 through IC 31-33-5-4)
Yes, an individual who has reason to believe that a child is a victim of child abuse or neglect is required to make a report to the Department of Child Services (DCS) or local law enforcement. Furthermore, if an individual is required to make a report in the individual’s capacity as a member of the staff of a public institution/agency, the individual is required to immediately notify the person in charge of the institution/agency (in this case, the library director) or must notify the library director’s designated agent. The library director, or the director’s designated agent, must make a report (or cause a report to be made) to DCS or local law enforcement. The staff person who personally observed the child who is suspected to be abused or neglected is only excused from making his/her own report if the staff person knows the director or the director’s designee made the report.

How should such reports be made? (See IC 31-33-5-4)
Reports must be made orally and immediately to either DCS or local law enforcement. Currently, DCS operates a hotline that is staffed 24-hours a day for the purpose of receiving such reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. The phone number is 1-800-800-5556. You could also call directly the local DCS office for the county in which your library is located.

Our library has a patron privacy policy. Doesn’t reporting suspected child abuse or neglect violate our patrons’ privacy?
The law always trumps local policy. Suspected child abuse and neglect must be reported. The library could consider amending the privacy policy to address that patron privacy is automatically waived in cases of suspected child abuse or neglect.

Children fall and hurt themselves all the time, it is not unusual to see children come in with bumps, bruises and scratches. What signs should I be watching out for when making a determination to call to report suspected child abuse or neglect?
Click here for the Indiana Department of Family and Social Services guide on identifying risk factors. Click here for the Prevent Child Abuse Indiana list of signs to watch for with the various types of abuse and neglect. Click here for the laws defining what constitutes children in need of services. Also, feel free to contact your county DCS office for further guidance.

What if I am not sure if the child is being abused or neglected? (IC 31-9-2-101)
You don’t have to be sure. Actual knowledge is not required by the law, nor do you have to have a high level of certainty. If you have reason to believe a child may be abused or neglected, make the report and let DCS determine if the report is substantiated. “Reason to believe”, for the purpose of the child abuse and neglect reporting laws, means “evidence that, if presented to individuals of similar background and training, would cause the individuals to believe that a child was abused or neglected.”

Is the library or library staff at any risk of legal liability for reporting suspected abuse or neglect if the report is later found to be unsubstantiated by the Department of Child Services? (See IC 31-33-6-1 through IC 31-33-6-3)
Unless a report is made in bad faith, individuals who report suspected child abuse or neglect are immune from civil or criminal liability relating to their making the report. The law presumes a person making such a report was acting in good faith.

Are there consequences for not reporting suspected abuse or neglect?
(See IC 31-33-22-1 & IC 35-50-3-3)
Failure to report suspected child abuse or neglect is a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

I am concerned about retaliation from the family I reported, should I be concerned?
(See IC 31-33-18-1; IC 31-33-18-2; IC 31-33-18-5)
The names of individuals who report suspected child abuse or neglect to DCS are not supposed to be divulged by DCS. Library employees are not required to inform the parents that a report was made to DCS about the parents’ child. The audio recordings of calls made to the child abuse hotline are confidential and may be released only upon court order. Additionally, according to the DCS website, people who make reports of suspected abuse or neglect to DCS may remain anonymous.

This blog post was written by Sylvia Watson, library law consultant and legal counsel, Indiana State Library. For more information, email Sylvia at sywatson@library.IN.gov.