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From the Office of the Medical Director: honoring the obligation to recognize and report child abuse

Image for From the Office of the Medical Director: honoring the obligation to recognize and report child abuse The month of April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and, as such, an appropriate time to encourage licensees to revisit their obligations under state law as mandatory reporters of suspected child maltreatment. North Carolina is a universal reporting state, which means that all responsible adults regardless of profession have reporting obligations under the law.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-301(a) provides that any person or institution in North Carolina who has “cause to suspect that any juvenile is abused, neglected, or dependent [as defined by the statute], or has died as the result of maltreatment, shall report the case of that juvenile to the director of the department of social services in the county where the juvenile resides or is found.” This statute also provides criminal penalties for “knowingly or wantonly failing to make a report or preventing someone else from making a report” when required by law. While it is natural for licensees to be concerned about wrongly accusing someone of abusing or neglecting a child, it may help to know that N.C. Gen. Stat. 7B-309 provides protection from civil and criminal liability for anyone who makes a report of possible child abuse or neglect in good faith.

Emerging data since the COVID-19 pandemic indicate a decrease in child abuse reporting (1) while at the same time there is increased concern of rising incidents of abuse. It is reasonable to attribute the decline in reporting to the decrease in contact of children with trained professionals in their community (teachers, caregivers, and healthcare professionals, including licensees). The waning pandemic and growing attention to preventive healthcare provide an opportunity for licensees to engage with more families in a professional setting. NCMB encourages licensees to refresh their understanding of the responsibility to engage the state’s child protective network when faced with the possibility of questionable injury patterns or other observations that cause concern.

NCMB produced a podcast on recognizing and reporting suspected child abuse and neglect in 2022 that provides excellent education on the basics and refers clinicians to supporting resources. In the episode, specialists Molly Berkoff, MD FAAP, and Melinda Manning, JD, review reporting obligations and challenge common myths that frequently interfere with statutory compliance. The podcast and accompanying show page are rich in information, resources, and strategies to facilitate timely reporting. Find additional resources on the following websites:

Child Advocacy Center of NC

NC Child Medical Evaluation Program at UNC Chapel Hill

American Academy of Pediatrics resources

American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children

I urge you to honor the spirit of Child Abuse Prevention Month by taking some time to inform yourself and your practice about this important topic.

Karen Burke-Haynes, MD, is NCMB's Chief Medical Officer and a pediatrician with more than 25 years of clinican experience. Many thanks to Raleigh pediatrician and NCMB Immediate Past President John W. Rusher, MD. JD, for his input on this article.

(1) UNC data