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Indiana Court Rules Couple Who Reported Suspected Child Abuse May Sue for Having Identity Exposed
Key point 4-08. Every state has a child abuse reporting law that requires persons designated as mandatory reporters to report known or reasonably suspected incidents of child abuse. Ministers are mandatory reporters in many states. Some states exempt ministers from reporting child abuse if they learned of the abuse in the course of a conversation protected by the clergy-penitent privilege. Ministers may face criminal and civil liability for failing to report child abuse.

An Indiana appeals court ruled that a husband and wife could sue the state for emotional suffering they experienced after the disclosure of the husband's identity as the person who reported five neighbors on his church bus route to the child abuse hotline. A husband and wife (the "plaintiffs") were actively involved in their church. The husband drives a church bus that regularly takes children in the neighborhood to church events. As a result of his involvement with many of these children, as well as incidents he witnessed in the neighborhood, the husband came to believe that children in various homes were being abused and neglected. He spoke to his wife about his concerns, which she shared, and she reluctantly agreed that the husband should make a report to the state Department of Child Services (DCS).

The husband called the DCS hotline to report his suspicions that children in five homes on his street were in need of services due to dangerous living situations. He believed the adult subjects of his report were involved in drugs or other criminal activities and were associated with serious and violent criminals. When he was about to end the call, the DCS employee asked for his name and phone number. The husband expressed reluctance and indicated that he did not want anyone to know that he had called. The employee responded that the information was confidential and nobody would find out that he made the report. The husband then agreed to give his first name and phone number, but not his last name. DCS also had the name of the street on which he lived.

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