What Churches and Ministries Must Know about Illinois' New Mandated Reporter Law
Updated: Jun 5, 2020
Written by attorney Andrew S. Willis
New requirements in the Illinois Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act (“Act”) are now in place that will affect how your church or ministry serves children. Aimed at protecting children from abuse or neglect, the Act has long required workers in areas like childcare to be “mandated reporters.” If a person is a mandated reporter, he or she is legally obligated to make a report to the civil authorities when there is reasonable cause to believe a child is abused or neglected.
In 2019, the Illinois General Assembly amended the Act to expand the definition of a “mandated reporter” and requires all mandated reporters to undergo a certified training course. It is vital that Illinois churches and ministries be aware of the law’s applicability and educate their staff and volunteers.
Who is a mandated reporter?
The Act broadly defines mandated reporters to mean persons who know a child in their “professional or official capacities” working in areas like healthcare and education.* For example, nurses and teachers are considered to be mandated reporters.
Most notably for churches, the Act specifies that childcare personnel and “any member of the clergy” are mandated reporters. Thus, pastors, nursery workers, Sunday School teachers, children’s choir leaders would all likely be considered mandated reporters. Furthermore, “child” is defined as any person under the age of eighteen, meaning those who work with high school or junior high students in an official capacity are also likely to be considered mandated reporters.
Are volunteers considered to be mandated reporters?
Yes. The official position of the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) holds that the volunteers are mandated reporters, and are bound by the same reporting and training requirements as paid employees.
What is a mandated reporter required to do?
A mandated reporter is legally obligated to make a report to DCFS when they have “reasonable cause to believe that a child known to them in their professional or official capacities may be an abused child or a neglected child.”
How to report suspected abuse or neglect?
Anyone can make a report by calling the DCFS hotline at (800)-25-ABUSE (800-252-2873).
Can a mandated reporter simply make a report to his or her supervisor?
No, the requirement to report to DCFS is an independent legal duty and simply reporting suspected abuse or neglect to one’s supervisor is not enough. A mandated reporter must make a report to DCFS regardless of an organization’s internal policies.
Is training required?
Yes, all persons in a mandated reporter role must undergo a certified mandated reporter training course within three months after starting their role. The training must be renewed every three years.
How to get the training?
Although several private services offer qualified training, DCFS provides a free course which can be found at mr.dcfstraining.org. The course is estimated to take 60-90 minutes.
Is there immunity from potential legal action for mandated reporters?
Mandated reporters who make a report in good faith are given immunity from legal liability. 325 ILCS 5/9.
Can mandated reporters remain anonymous?
While to avoid liability under the Act, a mandated reporter would need to disclose their identity to DCSF. However, DCFS is allowed by statute to protect the identity of mandated reporters from being disclosed publicly. 325 ILCS 5/7.19. Nevertheless, one may have to testify regarding the reported incident if the case becomes the subject of legal action.
What is the penalty for failing to comply with the Act?
Failure to comply with the Act is a Class A misdemeanor for the first violation and a Class 4 felony for a second or subsequent violation. Attempting to prevent discovery by authorities of an abused or neglected child is a Class 4 felony for the first offense and a Class 3 felony for a subsequent violation.
Are there exceptions for the clergy?
Yes, the law explicitly allows for a member of the clergy to not report suspected child abuse under what has been known as the “clergy-penitent” privilege under Section 8-803 of the Illinois Civil Procedure Code. The privilege protects members of the clergy or any accredited practitioner of a religious denomination from being forced to disclose information made during a confession or admission when fulfilling his or her role as a spiritual adviser according to the rules and doctrines of the religious body.
The clergy-penitent privilege originated to protect the act of confession between priests and congregants in the Roman Catholic faith. While the privilege is not limited to Roman Catholicism, members of the clergy should use caution before relying on the privilege as it is only applicable in specific circumstances. Simply having a conversation with a congregation member in a pastoral role may not be enough to be privileged. It is advisable that a clergy member consult with an attorney before relying on the privilege.
The full statute (325 ILCS 5/4) can be read in its entirety here.
*The Act defines mandated reporters to cover ten distinct categories: medical personnel, social services and mental health personnel, crisis intervention personnel, education personnel, recreation and athletic program personnel, childcare personnel, law enforcement, funeral home service providers, any member of the clergy, and healthcare providers of abortions, abortion referrals, or contraceptives.
The general rules outlined this article should not be a substitute for tailored legal advice as each organization’s structure and duties are different. Organizations are encouraged to consult with an attorney to determine the appropriate policies and procedures to comply with the law.