New Laws Around Mandatory Reporting: What does this mean for me and my church?
In April 2015, the laws outlining Mandatory Reporting were revised removing volunteers from the definition of child organization personnel as mandated reporters. Employees and supervisors of programming and ministries are considered to be Mandatory Reporters. Although not required by law, we encourage anyone, for ethical and moral reasons, to make a report in the event you receive information or suspect abuse or neglect is taking place and be a voice for the child or youth.
By Allison Lindsey
The Office of Connectional Ministries is committed to resourcing our churches across South Georgia with the most relevant and timely information to equip you for ministry. A training event was hosted by Centenary UMC in Macon where changes to the current laws surrounding mandatory reporting were presented. These changes went into effect July 1st and will have an impact on the faith community and local churches. I want to take a brief moment to highlight these changes.
The new law expands the pool of Mandatory Reporters within the faith community by defining the term “child service organizations,” which as outlined will now include programming in our churches provided by paid staff or volunteers. Where our Conference position through Safe Sanctuaries has always been that we have a moral obligation to report abuse, the law now says we have a legal obligation as well.
If an incident of abuse is shared, it is important to remember that we are not to be investigators. We are to listen without casting judgment and avoid attempts to construct details. We are to minimize the number of questions asked and avoid “leading questions”. The key will be in documenting what was reported in the words of the individual who has come forward.
An oral report must be given to the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) within 24 hours or if the victim is in danger then Law Enforcement should be contacted immediately. DFCS now provides an after hours number to report an allegation, which will be published on our website. Strict confidentiality is upheld by DFCS and immunity is granted to those reporting in “good faith”. The penalty for knowingly and willfully failing to report carries a misdemeanor charge.
The protocol for reporting as outlined in your Safe Sanctuaries Policy should be followed. However, please note that once a suspicion or allegation arises, we as staff and volunteers do not have the discretion to question its validity. The law clearly instructs that we must report any issue that is brought to our attention. Once a volunteer has followed the protocol in your church policy, they have fulfilled their obligation as a mandatory reporter.
For more information contact the Office of Connectional Ministries, (912) 638-8626. We are here to assist you in providing a safe and nurturing Christian environment for children and youth.