Disclosing a Child Abuse Reporter’s Identity

Can the state reveal reporting sources?

Church Law and Tax

Disclosing a Child Abuse Reporter’s Identity

Can The State Reveal Reporting Sources?

Some church leaders are reluctant to report known or suspected cases of child abuse due to a concern that the state will disclose their identity to the alleged molester. In fact, most state child abuse reporting laws prohibit the disclosure of a reporter’s identity to the alleged molester. Some states permit the disclosure of the reporter’s identity to other state agencies, or a prosecuting attorney. In addition, many states do not require reporters to divulge their identity. A few states do require mandatory reporters to identity themselves when they report child abuse, but in most of these states the reporting law prohibits the disclosure of the reporter’s identity to the alleged molester.

The laws of all 50 states are reviewed in a Table (Table 3) that accompanies this article.

Table 3: Disclosing a Child Abuse Reporter’s Identity: A Review of State Laws

Note: State laws are subject to change, and so this Table should not be relied upon without the advice of an attorney familiar with local law. Also, note that some states have delegated authority to administrative agencies to devise child abuse reporting forms that may require a reporter’s identity.

StateChild abuse reporting statute requires reporters to disclose their identity when reporting abuseDisclosure of reporter’s identity to the alleged abuser authorized by child abuse reporting statute

AL no “Nothing in this section shall be construed as restricting the ability of a department to refuse to disclose identifying information concerning the individual initiating a report or complaint alleging suspected instances of child abuse or neglect, except that the department may not refuse such a disclosure in cases in which a court orders such disclosure after the court has reviewed, in camera, the record of the department related to the report or complaint and has determined that it has reason to believe that the person making the report knowingly made a false report.” Code § 26-14-8
AK no no
AZ no no
AR “A mandated reporter who wishes to remain anonymous shall make the report through the child abuse hotline toll-free telephone system.” Code 12-12-507 “The department shall not release data that would identify the person who made the report unless a court of competent jurisdiction orders release of the information after the court has reviewed, in camera, the record related to the report and has found it has reason to believe that the reporter knowingly made a false report.” Code § 12-12-596
CA mandatory reporters only only by court order
CO “when possible” no
CT no “If the identity of [a permissive reporter] who made a report … is known, and the commissioner or his representative suspects or knows that such person has knowingly made a false report, such identity shall be disclosed to the appropriate law enforcement agency and to the perpetrator of the alleged abuse.” Gen. Stats. § 17a-103
DE no no
DC mandatory reporters only no
FL mandatory reporters only “The name of any person reporting child abuse, abandonment, or neglect may not be released to any person other than employees of the department responsible for child protective services, the central abuse hotline, law enforcement, the child protection team, or the appropriate state attorney, without the written consent of the person reporting. This does not prohibit the subpoenaing of a person reporting child abuse, abandonment, or neglect when deemed necessary by the court, the state attorney, or the department, provided the fact that such person made the report is not disclosed.” Fla. Stats. § 39.201
GA no State welfare agencies are authorized by to disclose information concerning child abuse in some situations, but any such disclosures “shall protect the identity of any person reporting the child abuse.” Ga. Code § 49-5-41
HI no “Every reasonable good faith effort shall be made by the department to maintain the confidentiality of the name of a reporter who requests that the reporter’s name be confidential.” Hawaii Stats. § 350-1.4
ID no no
IL yes “Any information obtained by the Department of Children and Family Services under this Section is confidential and may not be transmitted outside the Department of Children and Family Services other than to a court of competent jurisdiction or unless otherwise authorized by law. Any employee of the Department of Children and Family Services who transmits confidential information in violation of this Section or causes the information to be transmitted in violation of this Section is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor unless the transmittal of the information is authorized by this section or otherwise authorized by law.” 325 Ill. Stats. § 5/7.4
IN no Child abuse reports “shall be made available only to … (14) A person about whom a report has been made, with protection for the identity of: (A) any person reporting known or suspected child abuse or neglect; and (B) any other person if the person or agency making the information available finds that disclosure of the information would be likely to endanger the life or safety of the person.” Code § 31-33-18-2
IA yes “The department shall not reveal in the written notification to the parents or otherwise the identity of the reporter of child abuse to a subject of a child abuse report ….” Code § 232.71B
KS no “The following persons or entities shall have access to information from agency records. Access shall be limited to information reasonably necessary to carry out their lawful responsibilities, to maintain their personal safety and the personal safety of individuals in their care, or to educate, diagnose, treat, care for or protect a child alleged to be in need of care. Information authorized to be disclosed pursuant to this subsection shall not contain information which identifies a reporter of a child who is alleged or adjudicated to be a child in need of care.” Stat. § 38-1507 “The following persons or entities shall have access to information contained in agency records as specified. Information authorized to be disclosed pursuant to this subsection shall not contain information which identifies a reporter of a child who is alleged or adjudicated to be a child in need of care.” Stat.§ 38-1507
KY no “Under a court order, after the court has conducted an in camera review of the record of the state related to the report and has found reasonable cause to believe that the reporter knowingly made a false report.” Stats. § 620.050
LA yes “The department shall not disclose identifying information concerning an individual who initiated a report or complaint of alleged child abuse or neglect, except that the department shall disclose such information pursuant to a court order after such court has reviewed, in camera, the department’s case record and finds reason to believe that the reporter knowingly made a false report.”
ME yes “The department may disclose relevant information in the records to … a child named in a record who is reported to be abused or neglected, or the child’s parent or custodian, or the subject of the report, with protection for identity of reporters and other persons when appropriate.” Stats. Title 22 § 4008
MD no “Subject to federal and state law, the Administration shall provide by regulation … (1) procedures for protecting the confidentiality of reports and records made in accordance with this subtitle; (2) conditions under which information may be released; (3) conditions for determining in cases whether abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse is indicated, ruled out, or unsubstantiated; and (4) procedures for the appeal processes provided in this subtitle.” Family Code § 5-705
MA no “Written reports shall be confidential. The child’s parent, guardian, or counsel, the reporting person or agency, the appropriate review board, the child welfare agencies of other states for the purpose of assisting said child welfare agency in determining whether to approve a prospective foster or adoptive parent, or a social worker assigned to the case, may, upon request, and upon the approval of the commissioner, receive a copy of the written report of the initial investigation. No such report shall be made available to any persons other than those enumerated in this section without the written and informed consent of the child’s parent or guardian, the written approval of the commissioner, or an order of a court of competent jurisdiction.” Gen. Laws ch. 119 § 51E
MI no “The identity of a reporting person is confidential subject to disclosure only with the consent of that person or by judicial process.” Laws § 722.625
MN yes “The subject of the report may compel disclosure of the name of the reporter only with the consent of the reporter or upon a written finding by the court that the report was false and that there is evidence that the report was made in bad faith.” Stats. § 626.556
MS no “The identity of the reporting party shall not be disclosed to anyone other than law enforcement officers or prosecutors without an order from the appropriate youth court.” Code § 43-21-353
MO no “Only the following persons shall have access to investigation records contained in the central registry … any alleged perpetrator named in the report, but the names of reporters shall not be furnished to persons in this category.” Stats. § 210.150
MT no “Records … may be disclosed to the following persons or entities in this state and any other state or country … a person about whom a report has been made and that person’s attorney, with respect to the relevant records pertaining to that person only and without disclosing the identity of the reporter or any other person whose safety may be endangered ….” Code § 41-3-205
NE yes (for initial oral reports) “Any person legally authorized … to have access to records relating to child abuse and neglect may request and shall be immediately provided the information requested in accordance with the requirement of the Child Protection Act. Such information shall not include the name and address of the person making the report of child abuse or neglect.” Stats. § 28-719
NV no “An agency which provides child welfare services shall disclose the identity of a person who makes a report or otherwise initiates an investigation pursuant to this chapter if a court, after reviewing the record in camera and determining that there is reason to believe that the person knowingly made a false report, orders the disclosure.” Stats. § 432B.290
NH no no
NJ no “The department shall not release any information that would likely endanger the life, safety, or physical or emotional well-being of a child or the life or safety of any other person.” Stats. § 9:6-10a
NM no Child abuse records may be released to “any other person or entity, by order of the court, having a legitimate interest in the case or the work of the court.” Stats. § 32A-4-33
NY yes “Any disclosure of information pursuant to this section shall be consistent with the provisions of subdivision two of this section. Such disclosure shall not identify or provide an identifying description of the source of the report, and shall not identify the name of the abused or maltreated child’s siblings, the parent or other person legally responsible for the child or any other members of the child’s household, other than the subject of the report.” Social Services Law § 422-a
NC yes (for oral reports) “All information received by the department of social services, including the identity of the reporter, shall be held in strictest confidence by the department. However, the department of social services shall disclose confidential information to any federal, State, or local governmental entity or its agent needing confidential information to protect a juvenile from abuse and neglect.” Stats. § 7B-302
ND no “All reports made under this chapter, as well as any other information obtained, are confidential and must be made available to … any person who is the subject of a report; provided, however, that the identity of persons reporting or supplying information under this chapter is protected.” Code § 50-25.1-11
OH no “A report made under this section is confidential. The information provided in a report made pursuant to this section and the name of the person who made the report shall not be released for use, and shall not be used, as evidence in any civil action or proceeding brought against the person who made the report. In a criminal proceeding, the report is admissible in evidence in accordance with the Rules of Evidence and is subject to discovery in accordance with the Rules of Criminal Procedure.” Code § 2151.421
OK no “The Department shall not release data that would identify the person who made the initial child abuse or neglect report, other than an employee of the Department, or who cooperated in a subsequent investigation unless a court of competent jurisdiction orders release of the information for good cause shown.” Stats. title 10 § 7109
OR no “The name, address and other identifying information about the person who made the report may not be disclosed under this subsection or subsection (6)(b) of this section.” Stats. § 419B.035(5)
PA mandatory reporters only “Except for reports pursuant to subsection (a)(9) and (10) [pertaining to disclosure of information to law enforcement officials and prosecuting attorneys] the release of data that would identify the person who made a report of suspected child abuse or the person who cooperated in a subsequent investigation is prohibited unless the secretary finds that the release will not be detrimental to the safety of that person.” Consol. Stats. title 23 § 6340
RI no “All records concerning reports of child abuse and neglect, including reports made to the department, shall be confidential except as Specifically provided by this chapter or as Specifically provided by § 42-72-8 or Specifically authorized by the family court in furtherance of the purposes directly connected with this chapter.” Gen. Laws § 40-11-13
SC no “The identity of the person making a report pursuant to this section must be kept confidential by the agency or department receiving the report and must not be disclosed except as provided for in this chapter.” Code § 20-7-510
SD no “All investigative case records and files relating to reports of child abuse or neglect are confidential, and no disclosure of any such records, files, or other information may be made except as authorized in chapter 26-7A [pertaining to juvenile court proceedings] or this chapter …. Information received by an authorized receiving party shall be held confidential by the receiving party. However, the court may order the release of the information or any portion of it necessary for determination of an issue before the court.” Code § 26-8A-13
TN no “Reports of harm made under this part and the identity of the reporter are confidential, except when the juvenile court in which the investigation report is filed, in its discretion, determines the testimony of the person reporting to be material to an indictment or conviction …. The department may confi rm whether a child abuse or neglect investigation has been commenced, but may not divulge, except as permitted under this part, any details about the case, including, but not limited to, the name of the reporter, the alleged victim, or the alleged perpetrator.” Code § 37-1-409
TX no The following information is confidential, is not subject to public release … and may be disclosed only for purposes consistent with this code and applicable federal or state law or under rules adopted by an investigating agency: (1) a report of alleged or suspected abuse or neglect made under this chapter and the identity of the person making the report …. A court may order the disclosure of information that is confidential under this section if … the court determines that the disclosure of the requested information is essential to the administration of justice; and not likely to endanger the life or safety of … a person who makes a report of alleged or suspected abuse or neglect …. Family Code § 261.201
UT no “Except as provided in section 62A-4a-1007 [pertaining to the making of false reports] the division and law enforcement officials shall ensure the anonymity of the person or persons making the initial report and any others involved in its subsequent investigation.” Stats. § 62A-4a-412
VT yes “The name of and any identifying information about either the person making the report or any person mentioned in the report shall be confidential unless the person making the report Specifically allows disclosure or unless a judicial proceeding results therefrom or unless a court, after a hearing, finds probable cause to believe that the report was not made in good faith and orders the department to make the name of the reporter available.” 33 Stats. § 4913
VA no no
WA “The department shall make reasonable efforts to learn the name, address, and telephone number of each person making a report of abuse or neglect under this section.” Code § 26.44.030 “The department shall provide assurances of appropriate confidentiality of the identification of persons reporting under this section.” Code § 26.44.030
WV no “A copy of any report of serious physical abuse, sexual abuse or assault shall be forwarded by the department to the appropriate law-enforcement agency, the prosecuting attorney or the coroner or medical examiner’s office. All reports under this article shall be confidential and unless there are pending proceedings with regard thereto shall be destroyed thirty years following their preparation.” Code § 49-6a-5
WI no “An agency may not disclose any [information contained in a child abuse report] if any of the following applies … disclosure of the information would reveal the identity of a reporter or any other person who provides information relating to the suspected abuse or neglect of the child.” Code § 48-981
WY no “All records concerning reports and investigations of child abuse or neglect are confidential except as provided by [sections 14-3-201 through 14-3-215]. Any person who willfully violates this subsection is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars (0.00) or imprisoned in the county jail not more than six (6) months, or both.” Stats. § 14-3-214

Example. A New York court ruled that the subject of a child abuse report had no legal right to obtain the name of the person who reported the abuse, despite his claim that he needed the reporter’s identity so that he could sue him for filing a false and malicious report. The court acknowledged that the child abuse reporting law allowed the subject of a child abuse report to sue the reporter for monetary damages if the reporter did not act in good faith and acted with willful misconduct or gross negligence. However, the court noted that the statute “made no exception for the disclosure of the name of the person reporting the suspected abuse where there is an allegation that such person acted with willful misconduct or gross negligence, and we decline to read an implied exception into the statute.” The court conceded that its conclusion “may make it difficult for plaintiff to pursue his action, but our holding is consistent with the intent of [the law] to protect the confidentiality of the names of the persons reporting suspected child abuse [since] disclosure of sources of information could have a chilling effect, thus hampering agency efforts in providing services to distressed families. If a party alleging defamation, such as plaintiff here, could obtain the names of the reporters by simply commencing a defamation action, any such exception would swallow the rule of reporter confidentiality.” Selapack v. Iroquois Central School District, 794 N.Y.S.2d 547 (N.Y. App. 2005).

Example. A Texas appeals court ruled that a minister who reported an incident of suspected child abuse to the state could not sue the state when it disclosed his identity to the alleged abuser. However, the court ordered the state to discontinue its practice of disclosing the identities of some child abuse reporters to the alleged abusers, and it suggested that the minister could recover his attorney’s fees from the state. A minister received confidential information from members of his congregation that two other members were physically and emotionally abusing their five-year-old twin boys. The two members accused of abuse were the children’s biological father and stepmother. The stepmother and her family were prominent members of the congregation. The boys’ biological mother was not a member of the congregation and was not named in the allegations of abuse. The minister tried to persuade the members who disclosed the abuse to report their suspicions to the state. When these efforts failed, the minister called the Department of Human Services. Before making his report, the minister asked a Department caseworker if his call would be confidential. Specifically, he asked: “Now I mean … you’re telling me that there is no way that the people that I call in to talk about or anyone in their family will ever find out that I called or anything that I say in the course of this phone call.” The minister made the report only after requesting and receiving assurances that his identity would not be disclosed to the family. Several months later the alleged molesters requested a copy of the Department’s file in order to determine who reported them. The Department’s legal counsel determined that there was no legal basis for withholding the minister’s identity, and so the file was released including the identity of the minister.

Unfortunately, the minister’s worst fears were realized. After learning of their minister’s role in reporting the allegations of abuse against them, the parents filed a $1 million dollar libel suit against him and the church. Several weeks later, the church asked the minister to resign. The libel suit was later dismissed.

Several months later the minister sued the Department of Human Services, seeking monetary damages and declaratory relief requiring the Department to guard the confidentiality of persons who report child abuse. The minister claimed that the Department’s negligence in disclosing his identity to the family despite its assurances of confidentiality caused his church to dismiss him and damaged his reputation. He claimed additional damages for medical expenses to combat depression and for legal expenses incurred by him and the church. A jury ruled in favor of the minister and awarded him damages of $611,000. The trial court concluded that the Department violated confidentiality provisions of state law when it revealed the minister’s identity, and it ordered the Department not to divulge such information in the future without a court order.

A state appeals court overturned the judgment against the Department on the basis of sovereign immunity. But it affirmed the trial court’s order prohibiting the state from disclosing the identity of child abuse reporters. In barring the Department from ever again following such a policy the court observed: “We hold that the trial court properly declared that confidentiality is central to the [law’s] provisions governing the reporting of child abuse. Those provisions reflect a legislative determination that granting immunity and confidentiality to [reporters] will encourage the reporting of child abuse …. [The minister’s] experience reveals how retaliation may devastate the life of a concerned citizen who fulfills his statutory duty to report suspected child abuse, absent the protection of confidentiality. This particular case also illustrates the serious infringement of religious liberty that may flow from disclosing the identity of clergy who are required to report child abuse.” Texas Department of Human Services v. Benson, 893 S.W.2d 236 (Tex. App. 1995).

Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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