Children are one of the most vulnerable populations in our society. This is due not only to their age, but the effect that a lack of maturity and inexperience can have on the child’s ability to perceive life situations and encounters with others, whether it is a family member, another child, or a stranger. Children are taught to fear strangers, but neglect and abuse usually come from someone that the child already knows and trusts, and stranger danger, though real, is not usually that cause for any type of neglect or abuse that a child may suffer during his or her childhood. Because of the fact that many children may suffer from neglect or abuse at the hands of an adult that he or she trusts, there is an onus placed on professional adults in the child’s life who not only know the child and his or her demeanor, but who is educated in discriminating and differentiating the signs and symptoms of a child who may be suffering from abuse and neglect.
Maryland’s Current Child Abuse/Neglect Reporting Laws
Maryland law is surprisingly basic when it comes to the types of reporting requirements that certain medical, mental, and social welfare professionals are required to follow. 48 states in the United States have stronger laws that protect children and place a legal obligation on certain professionals, in particular, medical professionals to report any abuse or neglect that is observed from a child-patient. A recent bill was submitted to the Maryland legislature seeking to put more legal pressures on these professionals to report any signs of abuse and/or neglect that they observe from a child within their care.
The Proposed Criminal Penalties for Failing to Inform and Report
Senate Bill 135 was put forth by Senator Lee looks to enhance the criminal penalties against certain persons who fail to report or give notice about possible allegations of child abuse or neglect. The bill strengthens the current legislation that any health practitioner, human service professional, police officer, or education professional who fails to report any reasonable belief that a child is suffering from abuse and/or neglect, will be guilty of a misdemeanor and may be fined up to $1000, be imprisoned up to one year, or may receive the fine and imprisonment for failing to report. For these professionals that work as staff members of hospitals, schools, child care institutions, juvenile detention centers, and public health and welfare agencies, they are required to notify and report all requirement information to the head of the institution and/or to otherwise follow the protocols established by the institution.
In the Event that Certain Communications are Privileged and Legally Protected
There are certain exceptions that legally protect certain communications when the abuse and neglect have been reported. These exceptions may be triggered where:
- The communications were made to an attorney as part of the attorney-client privilege;
- The information may violate a defendant’s constitutional right to effective assistance; and
- The communication was made to a minister, clergyperson, or priest and the receiver of this information is bound by religious law to maintain confidentiality of the statement; among other situations where the law protects the confidentiality of the communication.
Increased Criminal Penalties Will Encourage Medical Professionals to be More Responsible for Child-Patients
The importance of the bill stems from the ineffectual nature of the status quo requirements on these professionals while acting in their mandates. Currently, for example, there are reporting requirements for medical professionals that they must report and inform for any reasonable belief that they have that children are being neglected. However, not reporting elicits little in the way of punishment when failure to report leads to the medical professional’s licensing board or hospital board to disciplining the workers that amounts to a slap on the wrist.
Charles County, MD Personal Injury Lawyers that Fight for You
If a medical, mental health, educator, or social-welfare professional has a reasonable belief that your child is suffering from neglect and abuse and fails to notify and report this abuse to you or to the appropriate authorities, it is important to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. Please call the Law Office of Robert R. Castro at (301) 804-2312 for a confidential consultation.