03/02/2016

A dentist's role in reporting child, elder abuse


Abuse represents a spectrum of behavior. It is repetitive in nature and fatal abuse is often preceded by minor manifestations of maltreatment, which could be overlooked by dentists and their staff. Under California law, each person licensed by the Dental Board of California and Dental Hygiene Committee of California is a "mandated reporter" for known or suspected abuse or neglect of a child, elder or dependent adult and incidents of violence.

Dentists and their staff must report known or suspected cases to the county department for child protective services, adult protective services or to local law enforcement. All mandated reporters must sign a statement acknowledging this responsibility.

A mandated reporter who fails to make a report may be found guilty of a misdemeanor.

Dentists are strongly encouraged to provide employees with training associated with the responsibility of being a mandated reporter. Whether employers provide employees with training, the lack of training does not excuse a mandated reporter from his or her responsibility to report. No supervisor or administrator may impede or inhibit an individual's reporting duties or subject the mandated reporter to any sanction for making the report. The law, however, allows for establishment of internal procedures to facilitate reporting.

Here are some tips from CDA Practice Support on mandated reporting of abuse.

When reporting known or suspected abuse, neglect or violence is required.

A mandated reporter who in his or her professional capacity, or within the scope of his or her employment, has knowledge of or observes:

• A person under the age of 18 years whom he or she knows or reasonably suspects has been the victim of child abuse or neglect; or
• An elder or dependent adult whom he or she knows or reasonably suspects has been the victim of abuse or neglect; or
• An individual suffering from any wound or other physical injury as the result of assaultive or abusive conduct must contact a designated agency immediately or as soon as practically possible by telephone. A mandated reporter also must submit within 36 hours a written report on the requisite form to the designated agency.

Know where to report known or suspected abuse, neglect or violence.

Reports of suspected abuse, neglect or violence upon an individual must be made to the police or sheriff's department that has jurisdiction (not including school district police or security department) or to the county department with the responsibility for child protective services and/or adult protective services.

Remember that immunity and confidentiality apply to the reporter and abuse reports.

Persons legally mandated to report known or suspected abuse or neglect of a child, elder and dependent adult and incidents of violence have immunity from criminal or civil liability for reporting as required or authorized by law. The identity of a mandated reporter is confidential and disclosed only among agencies receiving or investigating reports and other designated agencies. Reports are confidential and may be disclosed only to specified persons and agencies. Any violation of confidentiality is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment, fine or both.

Penalty for Failure to Report Abuse

A mandated reporter who fails to make a required report is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of $1000 or both.

To help with any questions dentists may have about being a mandated reporter, two speakers at CDA Presents The Art and Science of Dentistry in Anaheim will be lecturing on the topic.

Wendy L. Patrick, JD, PhD, is a San Diego County deputy district attorney in the special operations division. She handles cases involving sensitive issues, including threat assessment. Patrick will be hosting a lecture titled "Mandated Reporting" at The Spot on Saturday, May 14.

Theresa Gonzales, DMD, MS, MSS, is the director of Orofacial Pain Management at the Medical University of South Carolina, James B. Edwards College of Dentistry in Charleston, S.C. Gonzales will be leading a lecture on Thursday, May 12, titled "Shades of Blue," which is designed to teach dentists the recognizable orofacial patterns of abuse. Attendees will also gain an understanding of the enormity of the problem in our culture and the reporting algorithm for mandated reporters.

For more information on the lectures at CDA Presents, visit cdapresents.com. For more information on mandated reporting, view the "Mandated Reporter" resource available at cda.org/practicesupport.



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Under California law, each person licensed by the Dental Board of California is a “mandated reporter” for known or suspected abuse or neglect of a child, elder, and dependent adult, and incidents of violence. Mandated reporters must report known or suspected cases to the county department for child protective services or for adult protective services, or to local law enforcement.

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