WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today introduced legislation to strengthen the District’s law for reporting child abuse and victimization to District authorities. The “Protecting Children Through Mandatory Reporting Amendment Act of 2019” adds clergy and religious institutions as mandated reporters under District law, significantly increases criminal penalties for failure to report, and creates certification and training requirements for mandated reporters.
“Child abuse can have traumatic and life-long effects on children’s behavior, emotional and mental health, and performance in school,” said AG Racine. “Teachers, health professionals, and clergy have a special responsibility to protect children, but far too often abuse goes unreported or is covered up. To help stop child abuse in the District, this bill requires more adults to report it and trains them on how to spot it. I urge the Council to pass this legislation quickly—our children deserve nothing less.”
Child abuse – and particularly child sexual abuse – is a significant and especially destructive problem. The District’s Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) reports that, in fiscal year 2017, it received more than 8,000 reports of child abuse and neglect that led to further action — that’s approximately one report of child maltreatment for every 15 children in the District and an increase of approximately 1,000 reports over the previous year. According to the nonprofit group Darkness to Light, which fights child sex abuse, nationwide 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before the age of 18, and 90 percent of child sex abuse victims know their abuser.
Since abusers are often close to their victims and may silence them through threats, promises or guilt, adults in positions of trust and authority have a special obligation to identify and report signs of abuse and need training in how to report. It is imperative that adults who are entrusted with children have the resources to understand how to recognize disclosures or signs of abuse and serve as the voice for children who can’t speak for themselves.
Under current D.C. law, certain kinds of professionals who regularly work with children – including teachers, school officials, health care workers, and daycare workers – are mandated reporters for suspected child abuse or neglect. The mandated reporters must immediately report the abuse to authorities as well as to the heads of any institutions at which they work, who must also report the abuse. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) currently has the authority to bring charges leading to fines and/or jail time against teachers, doctors, and other people who are required to report suspected child abuse but fail to do so.
AG Racine’s legislation would update and strengthen the District’s mandatory reporting law by:
- Strengthening protections for children: The proposal broadens the circumstances under which mandatory reporters must contact the authorities. It ensures that reporters must report all suspected child abuse, whether or not they have come into direct contact with the child, and that reporters must notify authorities about child sex abuse even if the victim is now an adult.
- Making clergy mandated reporters of child abuse: The bill would add clergy to the list of individuals required to report abuse. The District would join the overwhelming majority of other jurisdictions that already require clergy to report abuse.
- Requiring religious institutions and boards of directors to report child abuse: The bill would add churches, synagogues and other religious institutions to the list of organizations whose leaders have an independent responsibility to report abuse to authorities after becoming aware of it. This bill also requires mandated reporters to report not only to the police and child services, but also to the heads of their institutions and their boards of directors to protect all the children in that institution. The institution heads and chairpersons of the boards of directors would have an independent duty to, in turn, report that abuse.
- Stiffening penalties for failure to report child abuse: Currently, the potential penalties for failure to report under District law include jail sentences of up to 180 days and fines of up to $1,000. The bill would increase the maximum fine to $2,500 for the first offense and up to $5,000 for subsequent offenses. In addition, for mandated reporters in licensed professions, the bill would require OAG to notify the relevant licensing board of a conviction.
- Requiring training and certification for mandated reporters: Currently, there are no training or certification requirements for mandated reporters in the District. The new bill would create requirements for mandatory reporters to receive regular certification and training and establish a $300 civil fine for failure to comply with those requirements. The specific requirements would be determined through regulations.
A copy of the “Protecting Children Through Mandatory Reporting Amendment Act of 2019” is available at: http://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-01/Mandatory-Reporting-Bill.pdf
To Report Child Abuse
Every child has a fundamental right to feel protected and safe. Reporting suspected or known incidents of child abuse is key to ensuring a child’s safety. Reporting is also necessary for CFSA to act. Anyone who suspects child abuse may call the District’s central reporting line at 202-671-SAFE (202-671-7233). In life-threatening situations, call 911. In addition to the general obligation to report child sexual abuse, D.C. law also requires mandated reporters to report suspected child abuse or neglect, gunshot wounds, and unexplained knife injuries for a child under 18.
More information about the District’s current mandated reporting requirements for child abuse is available at: .
OAG Investigation and Hotline
In October, 2018, AG Racine announced an OAG investigation into whether the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington covered up past sexual abuse of minors. If you are a victim of child sexual abuse by clergy or have knowledge of such abuse, report it to OAG at . OAG will review all allegations as part of its ongoing civil investigation. Where appropriate, OAG will also refer information to the proper criminal authorities.