by Kathryn Krase, Ph.D., JD, MSW
Although laws may differ slightly across the country, the simple fact is that social workers are mandated reporters of suspected child maltreatment IN ALL 50 STATES. The same is not true of requirements to report elder abuse or intimate partner violence.
Elder abuse involves physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect, or abandonment of an older person (or in some cases, a disabled person) by someone with whom the elder has a special relationship. These relationships may include spouses, siblings, children, friends, or caregivers. Whereas the prevalence of elder abuse is not clear, recognition of this disturbing social problem has grown over the past few decades (United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging, National Center of Elder Abuse, 2014).
In recognition of the seriousness of elder abuse, most states have passed laws that attempt to address this social problem. Through law, states generally design a system through which allegations of elder abuse can be reported and investigated. In most states, this responsibility rests with Adult Protective Services (APS). In some states, APS is associated with the government’s social service department. In other states, the role of APS is fulfilled by the criminal justice system.
In recognition of the difficulty inherent in identifying and reporting elder abuse, some states have adopted laws that require certain persons (or all adults) to report suspected elder abuse. The American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging authored a summary of state laws as of 2006 (Stiegel & Klem, 2007). The summary document can be found here: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/aging/docs/MandatoryReportingProvisionsChart.authcheckdam.pdf .
In states that designed a system of mandated reporting of elder abuse, social workers are often delineated as mandated reporters. In states where social workers are not considered mandated reporters of elder abuse, there is always a system in place by which a social worker can report suspicions of elder abuse to APS.
If you believe that an older person is in imminent physical danger, call the police. When in doubt about whether elder abuse is occurring, and what you can do, you can contact Eldercare, a service of the federal Administration on Aging, for assistance (1-800-677-1116, http://eldercare.gov/Eldercare.NET/Public/Index.aspx).
Intimate Partner Violence
Intimate partner violence involves physical, sexual, or psychological harm caused by a current or former partner or spouse (Centers for Disease Control, 2014). In a 2000 survey on violence conducted by the National Institutes of Justice, more than 22% of women and 7% of men reported physical assault by a current or former partner in their lifetime (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000). It is estimated that more than 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by a partner annually (Tjaden & Thoennes, 2000).
In response to the growing recognition of intimate partner violence as a social problem over the past few decades, states have adopted laws to prompt legal intervention. For instance, in all states, specific healthcare professionals are required to report certain cases of suspected intimate partner violence (Durborow, Lizdas, O’Flaherty, & Marjavi, 2010). However, the circumstances that arise to a requirement to report vary widely from state to state.
Although social workers may be among those considered mandated reporters of intimate partner violence in the context of their role in the provision of healthcare, social workers are not always mandated reporters of intimate partner violence. To help you determine whether you are required to make a report of suspected intimate partner violence, and who to contact to make such a report in your state, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (1-800-787-3224- TTY). The hotline is available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.
In cases in which you suspect that intimate partner violence may impact the health and safety of a child, your responsibility as a mandated reporter of suspected child maltreatment is to make a report to Child Protective Services (CPS). However, not all cases of intimate partner violence necessitate a report to CPS. Your responsibility as a mandated reporter of suspected child maltreatment is only triggered if a child’s safety or well-being is harmed, or is in danger of being harmed as a result of the intimate partner violence.
Making the Tough Calls
From the first day of your social work education, you’ve learned that our profession is not as simple as some think it is. We have responsibilities to individuals, and to society as a whole, that others around us simply cannot comprehend. We have not chosen an easy career; we have been chosen for a challenging career. However, through education and support, making the tough calls can be a little bit easier.
Durborow N., Lizdas K.C., O’Flaherty, A., & Marjavi, A. (2010).Compendium of state statutes and policies on domestic violence and health care. San Francisco, CA: Family Violence Prevention Fund. Retrieved from: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/fysb/state_compendium.pdf
National Domestic Violence Hotline, The. (2014). The National Domestic Violence Hotline. Retrieved from: http://www.thehotline.org/
Stiegel, L., & Klem, E. (2007). Reporting requirements: Provisions and citations in adult protective services laws, by state. American Bar Association, Commission on Law and Aging.
Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (2000). Full report of the prevalence, incidence, and consequences of violence against women: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey. Research Report. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/183781.pdf
United States Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging, National Center of Elder Abuse (2014). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from: http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/faq/index.aspx
Kathryn S. Krase, Ph.D., J.D., MSW, is an assistant professor of social work at Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY. She earned her Ph.D. in social work, her Juris Doctor, and her Master of Social Work from Fordham University. She has written and presented extensively on mandated reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect. She previously served as Associate Director of Fordham University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Family and Child, as well as Clinical Social Work Supervisor for the Family Defense Clinic at New York University Law School.