Trinity Mount Ministries

Sunday, August 25, 2019

It's the law: Protecting children from abuse falls on all of us


Q. I am worried about my neighbor’s children. We live in adjoining apartments. I have often heard my neighbor’s boyfriend yelling (sometimes very angrily) at her children, and the children start crying abruptly. I fear that he might be hitting them, especially because the children always seem to have lots of bruises, but I have no absolute proof. I’ve tried talking to the mother, but she doesn’t seem to want to listen. Since I don’t have proof, could they sue me for reporting him?
A. Protecting children from abuse and neglect falls squarely on all of us, and not just because of social norms or moral obligations. Idaho law has long required anyone having reason to believe that a child has been abused, abandoned or neglected to report it to law enforcement or to Child Protection. The report must be made within 24 hours. Failure to report is a misdemeanor.
When you make a report, your identity must be kept confidential. The law also gives you immunity from civil and criminal liability for reporting. To be eligible for that immunity you only need reason to believe that a child has been abused, abandoned or neglected, and you must make the report in good faith. Honest, reasonable concern for a child’s health and safety is certainly good faith.
To determine whether you have “reason to believe,” you need to know the legal definitions of the terms abused, neglected and abandoned.
“Abused” means that a child has been a victim of physical abuse or sexual conduct. Emotional abuse alone, such as yelling, is not “abuse” under this law. Physical abuse means conduct or omission resulting in skin bruising, bleeding, malnutrition, burns, fracture of any bone, soft tissue swelling, subdural hematoma, failure to thrive or death, where that condition is not justifiably explained. Sexual conduct includes rape, molestation, incest, prostitution, obscene or pornographic photographing and other sexual exploitation.
“Neglected” means most situations where a child is without proper parental care and control.
“Abandoned” means situations where a parent fails to maintain a normal parental relationship with a child, including reasonable support and regular personal contact, for an extended time.
You should carefully consider all that you have seen and all you have heard to determine whether, in your best judgment, you have reason to believe that the children have been physically abused. You do not need proof positive. You only need a reasonable belief, that is, a belief grounded in evidence rather than mere suspicion. In this case, the existence of persistent bruising on more than one child is particularly telling. You do not need to try to find out the explanation for the bruises. Law enforcement or Child Protection Services will do the required investigation.
Stephen D. Hall is an attorney practicing in Idaho Falls. This column is provided by the 7th District Bar Association as a public service. Submit questions to “It’s the Law,” PO Box 50130, Idaho Falls, ID 83405, or by email to This column is for general information. Readers with specific legal questions should consult an attorney. A lawyer referral service is provided by calling the Idaho State Bar Association in Boise at 208-334-4500.

No comments:

Post a Comment