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Mandated Reporting of Child Abuse: Answers for Dentists

NCJ Number
CDA: Journal of the California Dental Association Volume: 32 Issue: 4 Dated: April 2004 Pages: 307-311
Patty Lough Ph.D.
Date Published
April 2007
5 pages
This article discusses many of the key issues involved in a dentist's reporting of suspected child abuse as well as what happens after a report is made.
State law generally protects from civil or criminal liability anyone who reports known or suspected child abuse, unless it can be proven that the reporter knew the report was false. Legal liability can also be incurred from willful misconduct or gross negligence in failing to report known or suspected child abuse. Regarding child abuse reporting by dentists, the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship does not apply under a statutory duty to report suspected child abuse. Prior to beginning work with a new patient, dentists may be wise to have parents of child patients sign a statement that acknowledges the dentist's statutory obligation to report reasonable suspicions of child abuse. As defined in California law, "reasonable suspicion" means that "it is objectively responsible for a person to entertain a suspicion, based upon facts that could cause a reasonable person in a like position, drawing, when appropriate, on his or her training and experience, to suspect child abuse or neglect." Dentists are required by California law to give identifying information, including name, business address, and telephone number, along with their legal status as a mandated reporter. In California, a report of suspected child abuse is made to local law enforcement or child protective services. A report must be made immediately upon deciding that there is reasonable suspicion of abuse. This article also describes the investigation process, what happens if the child is removed from the home after abuse or neglect is confirmed, the court's role in abuse cases, records kept on a suspected abuser, and prevention efforts. 15 references