Reporting Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect

Ohio law requires all school officers and employees to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect.  R.C. 2151.421 states that if a teacher, administrator or school employee, acting in an official or professional capacity, knows or has reasonable cause to suspect based on facts that would cause a reasonable person in a similar position to suspect, that a child under eighteen years of age or a mentally retarded, developmentally disabled, or physically impaired child under twenty-one years of age has suffered or faces a threat of suffering any physical or mental wound, injury, disability, or condition of a nature that reasonably indicates abuse or neglect of the child, then that individual must immediately report that knowledge or suspicion to either children’s services or a municipal or county peace officer in the county in which the child resides or in which the abuse or neglect is occurring or has occurred.  

In response to several frequently asked questions about this law, here are some practical tips:  

Q.  Who must report child abuse or neglect?

The statute requires reporting by a “school teacher; school employee; school authority” and other individuals.  This means that all school officers, employees, teachers and board members must report.  This also includes non-teaching professionals employed by a school district, such as a licensed school psychologist, educational aide, bus driver, etc. 

Q.  How should the report be made? 

Ohio law requires that the report be made either by telephone or in person.  The report must be made in writing if requested by children’s services or the law enforcement agency.  In some situations, it may make sense for the individuals with knowledge of abuse or neglect to make this report as a group.  If a teacher learns of abuse or neglect and reports this to the building principal, who in turn reports what she knows to the superintendent, all three individuals may report together in one phone call.  If this is done, each individual should keep notes of the date and time of the report, the individual to whom the report was made, and the subject matter of the report.  Board policy may dictate what information should be documented. 

Q.  What should be reported? 

An individual should report all of the relevant factual information in his or her possession.  In making a report, an individual need not offer any opinion about whether he or she believes abuse or neglect has occurred.  Instead, the individual may simply report what he or she knows.

Q.  What constitutes an “abused child”? 

For purposes of reporting known or suspected child abuse or neglect, R.C. 2151.031 defines an “abused child” as any child who: 

  • Is the victim of “sexual activity” as defined by Ohio law, where such activity would constitute a criminal offense [a court need not convict the perpetrator of a particular offense in order to find that the child has been abused];
  • Is endangered, except that a court need not find that any person has been convicted of a particular offense in order to find that the child is an abused child;
  • Exhibits evidence of any physical or mental injury or death inflicted that is not by accidental means.  This also includes an injury or death which is “at variance with the history given of it;”
  • Note that a child exhibiting evidence of corporal punishment or other physical disciplinary measure by a parent, guardian, custodian, person having custody or control, or person in loco parentis of a child is not an “abused child” if the measure is not prohibited by Ohio law regarding endangering children;
  • Because of the acts of his parents, guardian, or custodian, suffers physical or mental injury that harms or threatens to harm the child’s health or welfare; or
  • Is subjected to out-of-home care child abuse. 

 

Q.  What constitutes a “neglected child”? 

Similarly, for purposes of reporting known or suspected child abuse or neglect, R.C. 2151.03 defines a “neglected child” as any child: 

  • Who is abandoned by the child’s parent, guardian or custodian;
  • Who lacks adequate parental care because of the faults or habits of the child’s parents, guardian, or custodian;
  • Whose parents, guardian, or custodian neglects the child or refuses to provide proper or necessary subsistence, education, medical or surgical care or treatment, or other care necessary for the child’s health, morals, or well-being;
  • Whose parents, guardian, or custodian neglects the child or refuses to provide the special care made necessary by the child’s mental condition;
  • Whose parents, legal guardian, or custodian have placed or attempted to place the child in violation of Ohio law;
  • Who, because of the omission of the child’s parents, guardian, or custodian, suffers physical or mental injury that harms or threatens to harm the child’s health or welfare; or
  • Who is subjected to out-of-home care child neglect. 

 

Q.  What if I report suspected child abuse or neglect and my suspicions were incorrect? 

Ohio law provides absolute immunity to any school officer or employee who makes a good faith report of known or suspected child abuse or neglect.  R.C. 2151.421(G)(1)(a).  The law further provides immunity to anyone participating in good faith in a judicial proceeding resulting from the reports.  The immunity granted to school officers or employees includes immunity from any civil or criminal liability for injury, death, or loss to person or property that otherwise might be incurred or imposed as a result of the making of the reports or the participation in the judicial proceeding.  

Failure to report, on the other hand, could result in criminal liability or licensure issues for educators.  Therefore, a school employee may be subject to liability for failing to report, but is protected, or “immune” from liability for making a good faith report.  

          This Legal Update is intended as general information and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If advice is required, please contact us at (614) 222-8686 or via email: 

Julia A. Bauer Julia@sswlaw.com

Derek L. Haggerty (author) Derek@sswlaw.com

Julie C. Martin Julie@sswlaw.com

Jessica K. Philemond Jessica@sswlaw.com

Patrick J. Schmitz Pat@sswlaw.com

Gregory B. Scott Gregory@sswlaw.com

Donald C. Scriven Donald@sswlaw.com

Jennifer Stiff Jennifer@sswlaw.com

James K. Stucko Jim@sswlaw.com

Derek L. Towster Dtowster@sswlaw.com