Child Abuse Reporting Laws for California

State and Statute: California, Penal Code 11164 et seq.

What Is Reportable “Abuse”: Physical, sexual, or mental abuse, sexual exploitation, or neglect (but child abuse does not include “mutual affray between minors”). [11165.1], [11165.3], and [11165.6]

Mandatory Reporters: Includes any “clergy member” and “custodian of records of a clergy member,” counselors, teachers and teacher’s aides employed by public or private schools who have been trained about child abuse reporting, administrators of private day camps, an administrator or employee of a private organization whose duties require direct contact and supervision of children, an administrator or employee of a licensed child care facility [11165.7(a)].

“Clergy member” defined as “a priest, minister, rabbi, religious practitioner, or similar functionary of a church, temple, or recognized denomination or organization.” [11165.7(a)(32)]

“(b) Volunteers of public or private organizations whose duties require direct contact with and supervision of children are not mandated reporters but are encouraged to obtain training in the identification and reporting of child abuse and neglect and are further encouraged to report known or suspected instances of child abuse or neglect. (c) Employers are strongly encouraged to provide their employees who are mandated reporters with training in the duties imposed by this article. This training shall include training in child abuse and neglect identification and training in child abuse and neglect reporting. … Employers shall provide their employees who are mandated reporters with the statement required pursuant to [mandatory reporter requirements]” [11165.7(b)(c)]

The reporting duty for clergy members “shall apply even if the victim of the known or suspected abuse has reached the age of majority by the time the required report is made.” [11165.1-11165.6]

How and Where to Report: An initial report by telephone to a police or sheriff’s department, a county probation department, or a county welfare department. If, after reasonable efforts, a mandated reporter is unable to submit an initial report by telephone, he or she shall immediately or as soon as is practicably possible, by fax or electronic transmission, make a one-time automated written report on the form prescribed by the Department of Justice, and shall also be available to respond to a telephone follow-up call by the agency with which he or she filed the report. A mandated reporter who files a one-time automated written report because he or she was unable to submit an initial report by telephone is not required to submit a written follow-up report.” [11166(d(3)(B))]

Timeline to Report: Immediately or as soon as practically possible via phone, with a follow-up written report also made within 36 hours. If after reasonable efforts a phone report cannot be made, then report should be made immediately or as soon as is practically possible through a one-time automated written report via fax or electronic transmission, with availability for a follow-up phone call by the agency. [11166(a)(b)] and [11165.9]

Clergy Privilege: “A clergy member who acquires knowledge or a reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect during a penitential communication” is not required to report. A “penitential communication” means “a communication, intended to be in confidence, including, but not limited to, a sacramental confession, made to a clergy member who, in the course of the discipline or practice of his or her church, denomination, or organization, is authorized or accustomed to hear those communications, and under the discipline, tenets, customs, or practices of his or her church, denomination, or organization, has a duty to keep those communications secret. Nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to modify or limit a clergy member’s duty to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect when the clergy member is acting in some other capacity that would otherwise make the clergy member a mandated reporter.” [11166(d)(1)(2)]

Penalty for Knowingly Failing to Report: Mandated reporter—misdemeanor punishable by up to six months of county jail time or a $1,000 fine or both. [11166(c)]

Any mandated reporter who willfully fails to report abuse or neglect, or any person who impedes or inhibits a report of abuse or neglect, where the abuse or neglect results in death or greater bodily injury, shall be punished by not more than one year in a county jail, by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by both that fine and imprisonment” [11166.01(b)]

Civil Liability for Failure to Report Recognized? No statute recognizes civil liability. Consult with legal counsel to ensure no recent court decisions in California have recognized civil liability.

Immunity for Inaccurate Report: “No mandated reporter shall be civilly or criminally liable for any report required or authorized by this article, and this immunity shall apply even if the mandated reporter acquired the knowledge or reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect outside of their professional capacity or outside the scope of their employment. Any other person reporting a known or suspected instance of child abuse or neglect shall not incur civil or criminal liability as a result of any report authorized by this article unless it can be proven that a false report was made and the person knew that the report was false or was made with reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the report, and any person who makes a report of child abuse or neglect known to be false or with reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the report is liable for any damages caused.” [11172(a)]

Disclosure of Mandatory Reporter’s Identity: Reporter’s identity shall be confidential and disclosed only to certain agencies; disclosure to employee’s employer only with employee’s consent or by court order; statutory disclosure of reports of suspected child abuse or neglect and information contained therein—permitted disclosure of reporter’s identity only as specified in statute. [11167(d)(1)(2)(e)]

Additional Information for California

All information provided here was most recently verified in March of 2023.

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