Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
What Can Happen When Childcare Facilities Fail to Report Abuse?
Nebraska

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.

Key point 8-24. A reference letter is a letter that evaluates the qualifications and suitability of a person for a particular position. Churches, like other employers, often use reference letters to screen new employees and volunteers. Churches often are asked to provide reference letters on current or former workers. The law generally provides employers with important protections when responding to a reference letter request. However, liability may still arise in some cases, such as if the employer acts with malice in drafting a reference letter.

The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that two childcare centers were not responsible for the death of an infant in another facility on the ground that they failed to report the worker’s prior acts of child abuse to civil authorities. A married couple used an online service to find a nanny to provide in-home care for their infant daughter (the “victim”). The parents hired a young woman (the “defendant”) over approximately 30 other matches proposed by the online service, in part because the defendant had more experience working in childcare centers. Before selecting the defendant, the parents conducted a standard background check that revealed no concerns.

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