The Jerry Sandusky case and the response of the Penn State administration to reported suspicions of child molestation prompted much discussion about the moral and legal duties of a university to report suspected child abuse by one of its employees. Because that case arose in the school context, there was little to no associated discussion of mandatory reporting requirements as they may apply to youth sports clubs. Indeed, we are accustomed to thinking of professions like teachers, doctors and clergy as mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse. We don’t think of volunteer sports coaches having the same obligations. However, the designation as a mandatory reporter is of great significance because failure to report is associated with criminal liability.
In many states, youth sports associations are required to report suspected abuse. Consider this designation in Lousiana of required reporters:
Organizational or youth activity providers, including administrators, employees, or volunteers of any day camp, summer camp, youth center, or youth recreation programs or any other organization that provides organized activities for children.
Under this definition, not only your officers and administrators, but also any volunteers of a youth sports association would be required to report suspected child abuse. Are your coaches and administrators trained to do this? The penalty for failure to report is up to three years imprisonment at “hard labor” if the abuse results in serious bodily injury. What does this requirement mean to an organization that receives a complaint of questionable activity on the part of a coach? Can you ignore it? Should you even be the one to investigate it?
Now consider the Sandusky effect. Many states are expanding the designations of what groups are considered mandatory reporters. Florida recently enacted the toughest mandatory reporting law in the nation. Under the new Florida statute, any person who knows of or has a reasonable suspicion of child abuse is a mandatory reporter. Failure to report is punishable by up to a year in jail. Texas has a similar requirement that a “person having cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect by any person shall immediately make a report.” Again, are your staff and volunteer corps aware of and prepared to fulfill their obligations?
If a coach or parent is ejected for punching a child, has the duty to report been triggered? If you are a league commissioner and receive the game reports that show such an offense occurred, could you face criminal charges for not making a required report? If a parent comes to your board to complain about the verbal abuse and grabbing of a player by a coach, has a duty to report been triggered? What if a coach just notices that a player comes to practice with unexplained bruises and injuries on a regular basis. What constitutes abuse and what constitutes a sufficient report under the law? Does your association know the answer? Have you even considered the question?
At Placek Consulting, we offer educational and training programs to advise organizations on their reporting duties. We also deliver online training to assure that volunteers are properly educated about when and how they are required to report.