Michigan law requires that certain individuals who have reasonable cause to suspect child abuse or neglect must immediately report it to Child Protective Services.
- “‘Child abuse’ means harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare that occurs through nonaccidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or maltreatment, by a parent, legal guardian, or any other person responsible for the child’s health or welfare, or by a teacher, a teacher’s aide, or a member of the clergy.” MCL 722.622(f).
- “‘Child neglect’ means harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare by a parent, legal guardian, or any other person responsible for the child’s health or welfare that occurs through either of the following: (i) Negligent treatment, including the failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care; OR (ii) Placing a child at an unreasonable risk to the child’s health or welfare by the failure of the parent, legal guardian, or other person responsible for the child’s health or welfare to intervene to eliminate that risk when that person is able to do so and has, or should have, knowledge of the risk.” MCL 722.622(j).
MCL 722.623(1) requires the following persons to immediate report suspected child abuse or neglect to DHHS centralized intake:
- Physician’s Assistant
- Registered Dental Hygienist
- Medical Examiner
- Person Licensed to Provide Emergency Medical Care
- Marriage and Family Therapist
- Licensed Professional Counselor
- Social Worker
- Licensed Master’s Social Worker
- Licensed Bachelor’s Social Worker
- Registered Social Service Technician
- Social Service Technician
- Any Professional Employee of the Friend of the Court
- School Administrator
- School Counselor or Teacher
- Law Enforcement Officer
- Member of the Clergy
- Regulated Child Care Provider
- The Following Employees at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services:
- Eligibility Specialist
- Family Independence Manager
- Family Independence Specialist
- Social Services Specialist
- Social Work Specialist
- Social Work Specialist Manager
- Welfare Services Specialist
A report may be made either by telephone to CPS centralized intake or by using the online reporting system. If the report was made orally, the reporter must submit a written report to DHHS within 72 hours. If the reporting person is a member of the staff of a hospital, agency, or school, the reporting person shall notify the person in charge of the hospital, agency, or school of his or her finding and shall make a copy of the written or electronic report available to the person in charge. A notification to the person in charge of a hospital, agency, or school does not relieve the member of the staff of the hospital, agency, or school of the obligation of reporting to the department as required by law.
Michigan law protects the reporting individual with anonymity. MCL 722.625 provides that “[t]he identity of a reporting person is confidential subject to disclosure only with the consent of that person or by judicial process. A person acting in good faith who makes a report, cooperates in an investigation, or assists in any other requirement of this act is immune from civil or criminal liability that might otherwise be incurred by that action.” However, the statute does not shield the reporter from suits involving negligent acts or medical malpractice causing personal injury or death.
Failure of the designated individual to make such a report as required by law can result in civil and criminal penalties.
- “A person who is required by this act to report an instance of suspected child abuse or neglect and who fails to do so is civilly liable for the damages proximately caused by the failure.” MCL 722.633(1).
- “A person who is required by this act to report an instance of suspected child abuse or neglect and who knowingly fails to do so is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 93 days or a fine of not more than $500.00, or both.” MCL 722.633(2).
In Lee v Detroit Medical Center, 285 Mich App 51; 775 NW2d 326 (2009), application for leave denied 779 NW2d (2010), a young child was admitted to the emergency room where he was examined by several medical doctors. One physician noted that the child’s skin had “multiple bruising suggesting history of abuse”, but did not make a report because he believed the child’s history as stated by the foster mother to be genuine. The child returned home but died soon after from cerebral edema. The child’s personal representative sued the hospital and the doctors involved for breaching their statutory duties to report suspected child abuse. The doctors filed a motion for summary disposition in their favor because the “reasonable cause to suspect abuse” requires medical judgment and the claim should really be a malpractice suit. The hospital also filed a motion for summary disposition dismissing it from the lawsuit because the individual doctors are liable for non-reporting, not the employer.
The Michigan Court of Appeals denied both motions for summary disposition. It found that MCL 722.623(1) lists several mandatory reporters outside of the medical field who have no medical training but “are mandated by statute to make the same determination based on the same standard: ‘reasonable cause to suspect child abuse or neglect.'” Medical judgment is not required. The Court of Appeals concluded that “even if the defendant personally believed that there was no child abuse, he was still required to report the possibility and allow the state to investigate because the state has different interests.” Doctors, or anyone else, have little to no discretion in deciding to report or not. Furthermore, the Court of Appeals concludes “that an employer may be held liable for its employee’s failure to report under MCL 722.623.” The common law principle of vicarious liability holds an employer responsible for the acts of its employees acting within the scope of their duties. There is nothing in the mandatory reporting statute to suggest that the Legislature intended to shield employers from their employee’s failure to report suspected child abuse. As a result, the hospital was civilly liable for the failure of the doctors in the emergency room to report when there was reasonable cause for child abuse or neglect.
The mandatory reporting requirements are strictly applied and can result in severe penalties if the law is not followed to the letter. If you have questions about the responsibilities of a mandatory reporter or any other aspects of child protective law, do not hesitate to contact the attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC.