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Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting-Alabama

In Alabama, the number of children reported as abused or neglected has increased drastically.  In order to ensure that these children receive adequate care and support the state has made child abuse reporting mandatory for specific persons and institutions.  One must be aware of his/her legal obligations to report incidents of obvious or suspected child abuse or neglect of children below the age of 18, and report any such incidents to personnel who can take action.[i]  According to Code of Ala. § 26-14-1, “abuse” means harm or threatened harm to a child’s health and welfare; and “neglect” means negligent or maltreatment of a child.  The section more specifically states:

(1) Abuse. Harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare. Harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare can occur through nonaccidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or attempted sexual abuse or sexual exploitation or attempted sexual exploitation. “Sexual abuse” includes the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or having a child assist any other person to engage in any sexually explicit conduct or any simulation of the conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of the conduct; or the rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children as those acts are defined by Alabama law. “Sexual exploitation” includes allowing, permitting, or encouraging a child to engage in prostitution and allowing, permitting, encouraging or engaging in the obscene or pornographic photographing, filming, or depicting of a child for commercial purposes.

(2) Neglect. Negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child, including the failure to provide adequate food, medical treatment, supervision, clothing, or shelter.

According to Alabama law, all hospitals, clinics, sanitariums, doctors, physicians, surgeons, medical examiners, coroners, dentists, osteopaths, optometrists, chiropractors, podiatrists, nurses, school teachers and officials, peace officers, law enforcement officials, pharmacists, social workers, day care workers or employees, mental health professionals, members of the clergy as defined in Rule 505 of the Alabama Rules of Evidence, or any other person called upon to render aid or medical assistance to any child shall report or cause to report incidents where a child below the age of 18 is known or suspected to be a victim of child abuse or neglect.  However, a member of the clergy shall not be required to report information gained solely in a privileged confidential communication.[ii]

Reports can be made orally, either by telephone or direct communication.[iii]  The person making the report may call his/her County Department of Human Resources or local law enforcement agency to report suspected abuse or neglect. [iv]  After that, a written report must be submitted to the chief of police of a municipality or municipality and county; or the sheriff, if the observation of child abuse or neglect is made in an unincorporated territory; or the Department of Human Resources; or any person, organization, corporation, group, or agency authorized and designated by the Department of Human Resources to receive reports of child abuse and neglect. [v]

If the initial report is made to a law enforcement official, the official must subsequently inform the Department of Human Resources of the abuse.  Upon notification, the Department must carry out its responsibility to provide protective services. [vi]

The agency/authority receiving the report must commence an investigation based on the report.  If the investigation does not result in a conviction, the agency or authority shall expunge any record of the information or report and any data developed from the record.[vii]

The Department of Human Resources shall establish a statewide central registry for reports of child abuse and neglect.  The central registry contains: all information in written reports; records of final dispositions of the reports; services offered and services accepted in relation to abused children; names, identifying information, dates and circumstances of any persons requesting or receiving information from the registry; rehabilitative treatment plan; and any other information which might be helpful in preventing further child abuse and neglect. [viii]

Reports and records of child abuse and neglect and related information or testimony are confidential, and shall not be used or disclosed for any purposes other than the ones authorized by law. [ix]

Any person reporting suspected child abuse or neglect are presumed to be acting in good faith, and are immune from any civil or criminal action that might otherwise be taken.[x]

[i] http://www.dhr.state.al.us/page.asp?pageid=347

[ii]  Code of Ala. § 26-14-3(f)

[iii]  Code of Ala. § 26-14-3(a)

[iv] http://www.dhr.state.al.us/page.asp?pageid=347

[v]  Code of Ala. § 26-14-3(a), 26-14-1

[vi]  Code of Ala. § 26-14-3(b)

[vii]  Code of Ala. § 26-14-3(e)

[viii]  Code of Ala. § 26-14-8(b)

[ix]  Code of Ala. § 26-14-8(c)

[x] http://www.dhr.state.al.us/page.asp?pageid=348

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