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Mandatory Reporters


 NOTE

    This article addresses child abuse and rape of child cases in Massachusetts.
    Because the law develops at different rates and in different directions from state to state,
    you must check the law or consult an attorney in your state.
         
                                                                           
 




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In Massachusetts, doctors, psychologists, social workers, rape counselors, teachers are some of those persons classified by statute as mandatory reporters.  All mandatory reporters must file reports of suspected child abuse or neglect with the Department of Social Services ["DSS"], an administrative agency.  If a mandatory reporter does not report a case of suspected child abuse or neglect, the reporter faces being fined.  That suspicion, howver, must be based on reasonable cause. . . a reasonable cause to believe.

(Compare  fresh-complaint witness with mandatory reporter.)

The same law which requires mandatory reporters to report suspected abuse gives them full immunity from lawsuits by accused persons and their families, even if the reporters' suspicions prove false.

In Massachusetts, the mandatory report of child abuse or neglect is called a "51A" report, named after section 51(a) of  Massachusetts General Law Chapter 119, which requires the report.

After the 51A report is filed, DSS has 10 days to investigate and generate its own report: a "51B" -- named after section 51(b).  The 51B must state whether DSS's investigation did or did not support the allegation of abuse.

The DSS social worker who writes the investigative report is also afforded discretionary function immunity.

The accused is entitled to learn what DSS's decision was and to see both reports.  The accused also has a right to appeal if DSS decided to support the allegation and say, in effect, Yes, there is enough here to suspect child abuse or rape of child.

The regulations set out the appellate procedure from an administrative agency's decision.

Assuming an unsuccessful appeal, the accusations which are sure to have appeared in both the 51A and 51B reports would have spread immediately to the DA's office, to the police . . . and, if the accused is married or getting divorced, likely to the spouse and the spouse's divorce lawyer.  Of course, if the alleged child victim is not the biological child of the accused, the parent(s) of the child might also learn of DSS's findings and be allowed to see the reports.

The effect on the accused's future is immediate.  Reimbursement for legal fees and expenses is nigh to impossible.