New Child Abuse Reporting Requirements
Written by attorney John W. Mauck
On January 1, 2020, new requirements to report suspected child abuse were enacted. These changes are particularly important for all those who care for and watch over children, such as in churches, schools, and various social service organizations.
Except for revealing items given in clergy penitent "confession," pastors are now mandated to report suspected child abuse. They are also required to receive certified training and to file reports with the state that they have received such training. Whether these new requirements unconstitutionally overstep onto the rights of pastors and churches regarding their free exercise of religion is a concern amongst some, and remains an open question. In the meantime, pastors who choose to ignore the reporting the training requirements, or the filing of training records with the state do risk misdemeanor criminal penalties.
The new amendments also enact mandatory reporting for "educational personnel," but unfortunately, the legislation does not contain explicit exemptions for those educational personnel such as Sunday school teachers. Because of this, even volunteers could possibly be subject to the reporting, training, and filing requirements placed on clergy. As a practical matter, we do not think that these requirements will soon be imposed on church teachers as long as they are not employed, but strictly serving as volunteers. Nevertheless, in these days of increased governmental regulation, no assurance can be made that certain churches or groups will not be singled out for discretionary enforcement.
If your church or denomination has particular questions about the scope of this law, feel free to contact John Mauck at 312-853-8709.
For a more in-depth analysis and breakdown of these new requirements, see this article by Wagenmaker & Oberly.