Avoiding Liability Bulletin – April 2005

… Therapists must know the nuances of the child abuse reporting laws in their respective states. Assuming that one is a mandated reporter, the liability here can be great. A failure to timely report child abuse can lead to disciplinary action by the licensing board and to civil liability – malpractice. Additionally, a failure to report may constitute a crime. Again, the nuances are critical. For example, how does your state’s law treat the issue of an adult who was abused as a child? A twenty- year old patient tells her therapist that when she was twelve, her gym teacher fondled her. This would generally not be reportable in California. The therapist is finding out that an adult was abused when a child. The adult client could report it if she wanted to. And, in California, at least to date (there have been efforts to change this), the therapist has no duty to investigate. How does your state treat this situation?

… Another nuance to be aware of is in the area of domestic violence, where no physical injury is inflicted upon the child. What if spousal abuse or domestic violence occurs in front of a child? Is this reportable as child abuse (e.g., emotional abuse, child endangerment)? In California, it would generally be at least a permissive report (emotional abuse) and depending upon the circumstances, a mandatory report (child endangerment).

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Richard Leslie

Richard S. Leslie is an attorney and acknowledged expert on the interrelationship between law and the practice of marriage and family therapy and psychotherapy. Most recently, he was a consultant to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) and has written articles regarding legal and ethical issues for their Family Therapy Magazine. Prior to his work with AAMFT, Richard was Legal Counsel to the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) for approximately twenty-two years. While there, he also served as their director of Government Relations and tirelessly advocated for due process and fairness for licensees and applicants.

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