Suspected Child Abuse: Questions Both Lawyers and Psychologists, Therapists and Counselors Consider Before Notifying Child Protective Services
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have enacted statues requiring the reporting of suspected child abuse. Not all state statutes are the same. While all states support the mission to eliminate child abuse, they have enacted very different legislation.
Since I am an Ohio divorce lawyer, I want to focus in this blog on reporting issues that I have seen in my practice pertaining to the obligation for both lawyers and psychologists, therapists and counselors to report suspected child abuse to Child Protective Services (CPS).
Perhaps a good way to illustrate the difference in how a lawyer and therapist must deal with this client/patient is by creating a hypothetical pattern.
HYPOTHETICAL FACT PATTERN:
A divorce client comes into the office and tells me that he believes that his wife has sexually abused their 15-year-old son. He did not actually witness it, but he has recently noticed odd and inappropriate interactions between the two of them. He is extremely troubled by his wife wanting to divorce him and of course by the suspected relationship between his son and wife. So, besides my helping him with the divorce , I suggest that he start receiving professional counseling to help him with all that he is going through.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER?
- Do I as a lawyer have a legal obligation to report the suspected sexual abuse to CPS? (Child Protective Services)
- Upon learning of my client’s suspicions about the possible sexual abuse in a counseling session, will the therapist likely report the situation to CPS (Child Protective Services)?
A LAWYER’S DUTY TO REPORT
While lawyers in Ohio are mandatory reporters, the statute indicates that if the lawyer learned of the suspected abuse through his/her client, the attorney client privilege eliminates the lawyer from having to report the suspected situation to Child Protective Services (CPS). The sacrosanct nature and the confidentially of attorney client communications trumps disclosure of suspected abuse.
So in Ohio, the answer to hypothetical question numbered 1 is “no”.
DUTY OF PSYCHOLOGISTS, THERAPISTS AND COUNSELORS TO REPORT SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE
Pursuant to O.R.C. Section 2151.421 and Ohio Administrative Code Section 4757-5-10 these professionals MUST report the situation to the appropriate Children Protective Services Agency. This is true even though there is a similar confidentiality privilege between therapists and their patients. But the therapist is supposed to report the suspected abuse to CPS in a manner to preserve the confidentiality of their patient. Child Protective Services would then be required to investigate the abuse allegations, likely by talking to both Mom and Dad, their son, school personnel and perhaps others without disclosing how the referral came about.
This differing reporting responsibility can be confusing to both lawyers and the counselors. Their mutual client/patient may be shocked that their confidential discussion with the counselor will likely be reported to Child Protective Services (CPS). The repercussions of that disclosure and investigation can be huge for the family (some positive and perhaps others negative).
Be Prepared For An Ensuing Investigation
I am a big proponent of individuals obtaining counseling to help work through problems they are encountering. Nonetheless, if you are considering entering into therapy which involves child abuse issues, don’t be surprised by the ensuing investigation.
Need assistance with legal or suspected child abuse issues? Call us at 937 293-2141, or use the button below to contact us via our website. Our experienced team of staff and attorneys are here to help.
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Robert L. Mues
Attorney Robert "Chip" Mues has been focusing his legal practice throughout Southwest Ohio primarily in divorce and family law matters since 1978. Chip is passionate about family law and has proudly published the Ohio Family Law Blog since 2007. In addition, he is the managing partner of Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues. To learn more about him or the law firm, visit the firm's website at www.hcmmlaw.com. Appointments are available in person, over the phone or by Zoom. Call us at 937 293-2141.