Tennessee legally mandates all to report suspected child abuse, neglect

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TENNESSEE — April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “National Child Abuse Prevention Month recognizes the importance of families and communities working together to strengthen families to prevent child abuse and neglect. Through this collaboration, prevention services and supports help protect children and produce thriving families.”

While in many states, specific occupations like doctors and teachers are mandated reporters, in Tennessee, it’s everyone.

3,994,000 people across the country reported the suspicion of child abuse or neglect in 2019.

Jennifer Nichols, the commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services for Tennessee, says that one statistic from the Department of Health and Human Services is why the month of April focuses so heavily on raising awareness.

“It’s written into Tennessee law specifically under Tennessee code annotated 37-1-403 that all Tennesseans, all persons are mandated reporters,” said Nichols. “It’s not of child abuse and neglect, it’s of suspected child abuse and neglect.”

Nichols says that one word, “suspected,” is important. While many think they need proof of abuse before reporting, that’s not the case.

In Alabama, those required by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect include those in the medical field, teachers, law enforcement, daycare workers, and members of the clergy. The state’s Department of Human Services says the following on the matter:

Some people are required, by law, to report suspected abuse or neglect, but anyone is encouraged to make a report if he or she suspects a child is being abused or neglected. Those required, by law, to report include doctors, surgeons, medical examiners, coroners, dentists, osteopaths, optometrists, chiropractors, podiatrists, nurses, school teachers and officials, law enforcement officials, pharmacists, social workers, day care workers or employees, members of the clergy, and mental health professionals. Also required to report are persons called upon to render aid or medical assistance to any child when the child is known or suspected to be a victim of abuse or neglect.

Alabama Department of Human Resources

Most states follow Alabama’s requirement of specific occupations, but Nichols says she agrees with Tennessee’s legal requirement.

“We see children in our neighborhoods, in the grocery stores, at church, on the ballfields, playing with our children at birthday parties… and you may not fit into one of those specific categories that you’re talking about,” she said. “It’s the people who actually put their eyes on kids that can save lives, that can change lives.”

Though everyone in all states are not required to report, everyone is encouraged to report.

In both Tennessee and Alabama, those who report suspected abuse or neglect are presumed to be acting in good faith, meaning they are immune from any civil or criminal charges.

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