Should Arizona Require Everyone to be a Mandatory Reporter of Child Abuse?

A recent report on NPR (audio clip found here) discusses the push in Washington D.C., in the wake of the Penn State allegations, to make every adult a Mandatory Reporter.  As I’ve written previously, Arizona requires doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, and parents (the full list is in A.R.S. 13-3620) who ‘reasonably believe’ a child is subject of abuse or neglect to make a report to CPS or law enforcement.  If you are not in one of the listed categories, you have no legal obligation to report suspected child abuse.

NPR’s report breaks down the pros and cons of requiring every adult in America to be a Mandatory Reporter.  You may be surprised that I think the cons outweighed the pros on this. 

First, on a local level, I doubt a change to the statute would fly in the State legislature.  Perhaps if the government tied federal funding to it that would be a different story—but that is not real reason to adopt a radical policy change or to prosecute those who do not do the moral thing.

Second, according to the National Children’s Alliance, some states that already have ‘all inclusive’ mandatory reporting have actually seen the number of reports drop since the legislation was adopted.  Further, it’s well known that Arizona CPS is already overwhelmed.  In our state, the legislature never favors CPS when budgets are tight, yet they still expect them to be flawless when protecting children.  

Third, it is just bad policy.   We want the people who are supposed to be protecting children to do their jobs.  If they don’t, they should get prosecuted, be sanctioned. and held accountable.  But having every shopper at Metro-Center who sees a parent spanking their kid think that they need to call CPS is silly and would overburden an already compromised agency.

Nevertheless, it is nice to see Mandatory Reporting enter the national dialogue.  But, broadening the scope of ‘who’ is required to be involved is not the answer.   

I teach mandatory reporting compliance to schools and medical organizations and hear their feedback and experiences dealing with CPS.  There are certainly problems in the system and perhaps larger moral problems when it comes to people not reporting suspected child abuse.  Yes, I’m referring to the Penn State tragedy and what appears to be a wholesale lack of common sense.

I propose that including more people in the mandatory reporting category is not going to fix situations like Penn State.  That is, U.S. Congress is not going to legislate morality with any success (remember Mark Foley?).

You can reach Brad directly at brad@woodnicklaw.com and can read more about child abuse and dealing with Child Protective Services at www.woodnicklaw.com.   Your comments are welcome – good, bad, or indifferent.  In the coming weeks, Brad and Gregg will be doing Mandatory Reporter training for a number of private schools, including institutions under the Diocese.  Brad and Gregg also provide training to medical professionals and will be featured at the annual Arizona State Association of Physician Assistants (ASAPA) Conference in March 2012.