As a nurse, you don your scrubs each day, knowing you have a duty to protect your patients. In many states, that responsibility extends to a legal calling to protect your patients from abuse or neglect. Nurses are often called to report suspected child abuse, elder abuse, and in some cases, injuries that can be tied to intimate partner violence. A nurse’s training as a medical professional and duties caring for the sick and the injured make them uniquely qualified to offer support to victims of abuse.
Are you required to report suspected abuse wherever you see it, or only in the course of your profession as a nurse? This question has a complex answer that depends on the state you work in.
When Do Nurses Have to Report Abuse?
Nurses in many states are called to make a report to the appropriate authorities when they recognize signs of abuse or neglect. The circumstances under which a report is required vary from state to state.
For example, in the case of suspected child abuse, California requires a report suspected child abuse when a nurse “in his or her professional capacity or within the scope of his or her employment, has knowledge of or observes a child whom the mandated reporter knows or reasonably suspects has been the victim of child abuse or neglect.” In contrast, Indiana requires a report “when there is a reason to believe that a child is a victim of child abuse or neglect” but may not limit that requirement to a professional capacity or scope of employment.
The best way to ensure you understand the specific circumstances under which you are required to report is to familiarize yourself with your state requirements and any available training.
Institutional or Professional Reporting vs. Reporting All The Time
Whether your duties apply all the time or just when you’re at work depends on your specific state.
Some states, like the California example quoted above, specify that a report of suspected child abuse is required in your professional capacity or when working as part of an institution. These states can also include, among others:
- New York
In these states, your duties as a mandated reporter may be tied to when you’re working or when you notice signs of child abuse as a professional.
By contrast, other states require all people to report suspected child abuse or outline certain professionals as mandated reporters but also require all people to report. For example, in Indiana, New Jersey, and Wyoming, all persons must report. States that list certain professions as reporters but also require all persons to report include, among others:
- New Hampshire
In these states, your duties as a mandated reporter may stretch beyond your work as a nurse.
Can I Report Even If It’s Not Required?
You may feel a duty to report suspected child abuse, even if you’re not required to in your state or in the specific circumstances. States that do not require all persons to report allow voluntary reporting, even in cases when a report is not required. These voluntary reporters of abuse and neglect are called permissive reporters. When making a permissive report, make sure you know the regulations in your specific state so that you can file a report that meets local standards.
The best way to make a report when you spot signs of abuse will depend on your state. Finding specific regulations and state-specific training for your area can help you understand and fulfill your duties as a mandated reporter and keep your patients safe and supported. Find information for your state.