The Office of the District Attorney General Sixteenth Judicial District is partnering with The Child Advocacy Center in Rutherford and Cannon Counties for the 8th annual international “19 Days of Activism for the Prevention of Abuse and Violence toward Children and Youth” to highlight ways the larger community can be involved in the work of child abuse prevention and intervention. To that end the Office of the District Attorney would like to address some questions regarding the reporting of child abuse and neglect.
Did you know every adult in Tennessee is a “mandatory reporter” of child abuse? Not just doctors, teachers, or therapists — but everyone is required under the laws of Tennessee to report suspected abuse or neglect of a child. Here’s what the law says:
T.C.A. 37-1-403: Reporting of brutality, abuse, neglect or child sexual abuse
ANY person who has knowledge or is called upon to render aid to ANY child who is suffering from or has sustained any wound, injury, disability, or physical or mental condition SHALL report such harm immediately if the harm is of such nature as to reasonably indicate it has been caused by brutality, abuse, or neglect.
Any person with such knowledge SHALL report it to a judge having juvenile jurisdiction; Department of Children’s Services; or law enforcement.
If ANY such person knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been sexually abused the person SHALL report such information . . . regardless of whether such person knows or has reasonable cause to suspect a child has sustained injury as a result of such abuse.
T.C.A. 37-1-615: Violations-Penalties
Any person required to report known child sexual abuse who knowingly and willingly fails to do so or prevents another from doing so commits a Class A misdemeanor.
So what does this mean? It means that if you know or have a reason to think that a child has been or is being physically or mentally hurt due to abuse or neglect, you are legally obligated to report it. It also means that if you know or have reason to think that a child has been or is being sexually abused, you are legally obligated to report it. Reports are to be made either to the juvenile court, the Department of Children’s Services, or the police. It is important to note that the law does not require to you do your own investigation or have personal, direct knowledge about the child’s circumstances in order to make the report. In fact, your report can be made anonymously, and you do not even have to give information about how you came by the information you are providing.
What happens after you a person makes a report? Exactly what happens depends on the specific information provided in the report but in all cases the child’s immediate safety will be evaluated and addressed by the Department of Children’s Services and/or law enforcement. Also in all cases, the Department of Children’s Services and/or the proper law enforcement agency will commence an investigation of any allegations contained in the report and will eventually present the information to the jurisdiction’s Child Protection Investigative Team for review and classification. The District Attorney’s Office will make the decision on whether or not a criminal offense or offenses occurred and, if so, will commence prosecution. The reporter can request to receive information about the outcome of their report. In all circumstances, the reporter’s identity, if provided, is kept confidential.
How do you make a report? The simplest way is to call the Department of Children’s Services Child Abuse Hotline at 1-877-237-0004 or 1-877-54ABUSE (1-877-542-2873), or go to their referral webpage at https://apps.tn.gov/carat/.