In the last few years, I have been asked several times - both by parents as well as educators - when a school's duty to report suspected abuse of children is triggered under New York law. Indeed, in its comments describing the purpose behind the Social Services Law, New York's legislature recognized the manifest need for greater protection of children, and stated as follows:
"Abused and maltreated children in this state are in urgent need of an effective child protective service to prevent them from suffering further injury and impairment. It is the purpose of this title to encourage more complete reporting of suspected child abuse and maltreatment and to establish in each county of the state a child protective service capable of investigating such reports swiftly and competently and capable of providing protection for the child or children from further abuse or maltreatment and rehabilitative services for the child or children and parents involved" (Social Services Law §411).
Therefore, in terms of a school's obligation to report suspected abuse, New York's legislature fortunately reduced these obligations to writing, in the form of Social Services Law §413(1)(a), which, in general terms, requires a "school official, which includes but is not limited to…[a] school nurse, "to report or cause a report to be made in accordance with this title when they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child coming before them in their professional or official capacity is an abused or maltreated child."
Anticipating a school employee's reluctance to report the abuse out of fear of retaliation, the latter part of the statute, Social Services Law §413(1)(c), provides as follows:
"A…school…shall not take any retaliatory personnel action, as such term is defined in paragraph (e) of subdivision one of section seven hundred forty of the labor law, against an employee because such employee believes that he or she has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is an abused or maltreated child and that employee therefore makes a report in accordance with this title."
In addition, Social Services Law §419 provides immunity to those people or entities who report or provide services based upon a report of child abuse or maltreatment. "Immunity attaches where there is reasonable cause to suspect that the child might have been abused, and where the reporting party has acted in good faith" (see Goldberg v. Edson, 41 AD3d 428, 428 ).
And, finally, Social Services Law §420, expressly allows a private cause of action for money damages upon the failure of any person, official or institution required by §413 to report a case of suspected child abuse or maltreatment (see §420[b]).