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Almost all U.S. states have mandatory reporting laws, that specify certain professions, especially those dealing with children, as being obligated to report evidence of abuse to a state agency. These laws vary by state.

Usually these laws prominently specify that teachers are among the mandatory reporters. For example, from a summary page on the New York State government website:

School official, including (but not limited to):

  • teacher
  • guidance counselor
  • psychologist
  • social worker
  • nurse
  • administrator or other school personnel required to hold a teaching or administrative license or certificate
  • full or part-time compensated school employee required to hold a temporary coaching license or professional coaching certificate

My question is: Are college instructors generally considered mandatory reporters in the U.S. (i.e., in most states or jurisdictions)? I suppose for the NY State example, it hinges on whether "colleges" count as a "schools", whether "professors" count as "teachers", etc.

I am not currently in a situation where I have any evidence of abuse, nor do I think I ever have been. However, more than once I've had a conversation with someone (usually a grade-school or high-school employee) who make the assumption/assertion that like them, I'm a mandatory reporter -- and my hunch is that's incorrect. I'd like to be prepared in advance if the issue ever does arise, and also to set expectations in conversations like these.

I'm hoping this question is answerable -- possibly with a clearinghouse site that's studied the issue, some professional association or major union guidelines on the issue, or a case finding from a federal court proceeding.

I'm limiting the question to the U.S. because I think it may be troublesome enough with different state laws around the issue.

I'm also most interested in reporting obligations to a government agency outside the school (aside from the fact that some institutions set their own internal reporting requirements). That is, do U.S. college instructors usually need to call to the same state agency that grade-school teachers are required to contact in these cases (e.g., in NYS, the SCR)?

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    I don't know about genuine legal aspects, but my own university in recent years has a policy that faculty or staff who become aware of an issue are not to talk to the person reporting the issue, but only to refer them to designated campus offices. Whether there is (university-) mandated reporting (to whom?) is unclear to me. Mar 7, 2023 at 19:34
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    Note that almost everyone that college instructors deal with is a legal adult.
    – Buffy
    Mar 7, 2023 at 20:18
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    I think there is going to be fundamental confusion on this question because the term "mandatory reporter" means very different things in the K12 and the university/college space. Our university uses this term for things like campus sexual assault, but the k12 meaning is specific to abuse and neglect of minors and also certain groups like elderly and those with developmental disabilities.
    – Dawn
    Mar 7, 2023 at 20:34
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    @Buffy - well, I started at 17, turning 18 my freshman year, no skipping grades or such. I knew younger freshman. And I doubt that the university gave our actual ages to anyone.
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 7, 2023 at 21:21
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    @JonCuster, and Buffy... actually, now that you mention it, the math dept at my university has a program for somewhat precocious high school and even middle school students, many obviously under 18, and under 16. There certainly have been epochs in which criminal background checks were done on proposed instructors... though I'm not sure this has been consistent. And I strongly doubt that the instructors have been prepped about reporting apparent child abuse (though, by this year, maybe that is part of their warm-up...) Mar 8, 2023 at 3:00

3 Answers 3

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Laws in the US vary by state. I question the value of determining "generally", as generally it depends, and for any individual it matters most whether it applies to them.

Generally I'm familiar with the phrase "mandatory reporter" referring to people mandated to report suspected abuse/maltreatment of children. There may be other things that it is mandatory to report but that doesn't necessarily imply the same thing as "mandatory reporter".

In my state, there is a statutory definition of mandatory reporter that would include a lot of university employees that interact with children, including employees that work in healthcare or childcare.

There is also an executive order that makes university professors, administrators, and other employees who are employed by the state mandatory reporters as well. This would not apply to professors at private institutions.

For compliance with other reporting requirements, it seems my institution avoids using the phrase "mandatory reporter". For example, Title IX comes with reporting obligations, but there the people-who-are-mandated-to-report are called "responsible employees". There are also state requirements for reporting sexual assault that apply to all campus employees; that doesn't make them "mandatory reporters". Other examples I can think of would include requirements to report violations/leaks of HIPAA/patient information, or requirements under animal or human subjects protocols from IRB/IACUC. All of these comes with non-optional reporting requirements, but they don't make anyone a "mandatory reporter".

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    According to this link: childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/laws-policies/statutes/manda there are 18 states where all members of the public are mandatory reporters for child abuse and neglect. These are: Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.
    – Dawn
    Mar 7, 2023 at 20:41
  • You might add this link - state-specific statues can be searched here: childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/laws-policies/state
    – Dawn
    Mar 7, 2023 at 20:43
  • The same report referenced above says that several states specify that university faculty are mandated reporters as of 2019: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa (includes only instructors at community colleges), Louisiana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.
    – Dawn
    Mar 7, 2023 at 20:45
  • @Dawn Seems useful, though not comprehensive; for example, it doesn't have reference to the executive order I mentioned which is highly relevant to university faculty, since they are not otherwise included in the legislative requirement.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 7, 2023 at 20:46
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    There are situations, at least in Virginia, where mandatory reporting includes vulnerable people who are not necessarily children, such as the elderly and disabled. Employers usually (might required to) clarify mandatory reporting guidelines to employees who are mandatory reporters. Mar 8, 2023 at 4:40
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Note: This answer relates to mandatory reporting laws in relation to child neglect and abuse, not "mandatory reporting" imposed by employee requirements in Title IX or other instruments. There is often some confusion on this site about these distinctions.

As a general principle, laws imposing mandatory reporting obligations on teachers in "schools" generally includes primary and secondary education but not higher education or professional accreditation (e.g., universities, technical colleges, professional association, etc.). The reason for this is that the latter institutions are primarily created for adults (though they do sometimes enrol minors). This means that legal obligations imposed on "teachers" in "schools" do not usually apply to lecturers, tutors, etc., in universities or technical colleges. Some legal instruments refer specifically to academics and university lecturers as a separate profession (see e.g., laws relating to qualified persons to act as justice of the peace, etc.) and this adds weight to the interpretive difference. For some references to case law on this matter you might be interested in this entry in Black's Law Dictionary. In some statutes that impose mandatory reporting you will find a dictionary that includes interpretative information for the terms in the statute, and this might include a definition of "teacher" or "school". However, these are not always included and so judicial interpretation is used.

As an example, the NY mandatory reporting law you refer to is Section 413, Title 6 of the NY Social Services laws. The school personnel covered by the mandatory reporting requirement are the following:

§ 413. Persons and officials required to report cases of suspected child abuse or maltreatment.

  1. (a) The following persons and officials are required to report or cause a report to be made in accordance with this title ... school official, which includes but is not limited to school teacher, school guidance counselor, school psychologist, school social worker, school nurse, school administrator or other school personnel required to hold a teaching or administrative license or certificate...

This legal code also contains a dictionary of general definitions (Section 412) but that dictionary does not define "school" or any related terms. Nevertheless, the above section refers to "other school personnel required to hold a teaching or administrative license or certificate", which suggests that the previous references to teachers, etc., is for those required to hold a license or certificate. This augments the general interpretive principle that "school" does not include higher education by a university, technical college, professional association, etc. This would exclude lecturers at a university.

(Note of course that people who are not mandatory reporters are still able to make reports of child neglect or abuse through the same reporting channels as mandatory reporters; they are just not under a legal obligation to do so.)

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In many cases, by institutional policies, faculty are mandatory reporters.

Some institutions have policies that exclude faculty as mandatory reporters, but those institutions run a legal risk- if a faculty member or other employee becomes aware of a reportable matter (under Title IX, Title VII, or the Clery Act, federal laws with mandatory reporting requirements) and then doesn't report it, the institution could be in legal trouble. Individual states can also have mandatory reporting requirements. The conservative way for an institution to avoid this problem is to make every employee a mandatory reporter.

Since this varies by institution, and might also vary depending on the particular circumstances under your institutional policy, you should learn about the policy at your institution and ask questions if it's unclear.

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    In your reference to Title IX, I think you may be confusing mandatory reporting within the university and mandatory reporting to the state government. I think the question is about the latter.
    – Dawn
    Mar 7, 2023 at 20:33
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    My answer was entirely about mandatory reporting within the university. The OP edited the question after my answer to ask about mandatory reporting to state authorities. Mar 7, 2023 at 21:10
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    @BrianBorchers: The question has always been about state laws since the first version. I did edit in an attempt to further clarify. Mar 7, 2023 at 21:58

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