Private counselors: Are you a “mandated reporter”?

Private counselors, have you ever wondered if you’re considered a “mandated reporter”? It’s a question that’s come up frequently at Collegewise, one that I thought I’d answer here for others in our private counseling profession.

Mandated reporters are required by law to report “child maltreatment” to the proper authorities, usually the police or Child Protective Services. The circumstances under which a reporter must file a report depend on the particular state, but the Department of Health and Human Services defines two reporting standards: (1) “The reporter, in his or her official capacity, suspects or has reasons to believe that a child has been abused or neglected; and (2) the reporter has knowledge of, or observes a child being subjected to, conditions that would reasonably result in harm to the child.”

As of the writing of this post, 48 states designate professions whose members are considered mandated reporters, typically those that involve frequent contact with children—teachers, social workers, mental health professionals, child care providers, health care workers, etc. But 16 of those states broaden their mandating reporting responsibilities to include any person who suspects child maltreatment. And two states—New Jersey and Wyoming—don’t name professions at all and simply require any person with reasonable suspicion to report.

Given that state laws can change, I’d strongly encourage any private counselor to review the mandatory reporting laws for your state. Just Googling your state and “mandatory reporting” will likely get you what you’re looking for within the top five results.

I’ve learned when discussing this with some of our Collegewise counselors that dedicated professionals are sometimes uncomfortable if they learn their state does not designate them as mandated reporters. If you research your state laws and find yourself feeling the same way, here’s where that discomfort may be coming from. It can be easier to tell a student who’s revealed something uncomfortable to you, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have a choice—I have to report this because it’s the law,” than it is to say, “I’m sorry, but I’m worried about you and I have to report this because I want you to be safe even if it means you’re mad at me.” The law gives mandated reporters some nice cover in those scenarios.

But whatever your state laws dictate your legal responsibilities to be, most responsible adult professionals who work with kids don’t need a state law to tell them that they should contact the authorities if they have reason to believe that laws are being broken and an underage minor is being abused or whose safety is being put in serious jeopardy. Our policy is to behave like mandated reporters even if our particular states don’t put us in that category. Obey the law, and your conscience. It’s what your students deserve.