What does mandatory reporting mean?
It means the binding legal requirement, supported by penalties, to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect. The phrase is not defined in the Act.
Mandatory reporting, taken alone, might be a requirement applied to other vulnerable categories of individuals: e.g., the frail elderly, and the disabled, just to mention two. At the present moment and with respect to your professional practice the set of individuals covered for protection is children. As the population ages this may well change to include the elderly. Elder abuse is already a common topic of social concern that gets attention in legal, medical and nursing circles.
The mandatory reporting of professional misconduct is a feature of the new Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (South Australia) Act 2010. This requirement does not directly refer to the treatment or management of children, but to other health professionals and to some health professional students. This last aspect of the new Act might be worth drawing your attention to while we are on the topic:
143—Mandatory notifications by education providers
(1) An education provider must notify the National Agency if the provider reasonably believes—
(a) a student enrolled in a program of study provided by the provider has an impairment that, in the course of the student undertaking clinical training as part of the program of study, may place the public at substantial risk of harm; or
(b) a student for whom the education provider has arranged clinical training has an impairment that, in the course of the student undertaking the clinical training, may place the public at substantial risk of harm.
See section 237 which provides protection from civil, criminal and administrative liability for persons who make a notification under this Law. Section 237(3) provides that the making of a notification does not constitute a breach of professional etiquette or ethics or a departure from accepted standards of professional conduct and nor is any liability for defamation incurred.
(2) A contravention of subsection (1) does not constitute an offence.
(3) However, if an education provider does not comply with subsection (1)—
(a) the National Board that registered the student must publish details of the failure on the Board’s website; and
(b) the National Agency may, on the recommendation of the National Board, include a statement about the failure in the Agency’s annual report.
On the more general requirement to report what is called ‘notifiable conduct’:
Notifiable conduct by registered health practitioners is defined as:
- practising while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs
- sexual misconduct in the practice of the profession
- placing the public at risk of substantial harm because of an impairment (health issue), or
- placing the public at risk because of a significant departure from accepted professional standards.
Our scope is restricted to children, and the legal requirement mentioned is via the creation of statutes in state legislatures. This means that for us in SA the Children’s Protection Act 1993 (SA) covers the area. The reporting of suspicions of abuse or neglect is an obligation mandated by legislation for certain groups of professionals. Reporting for those not mandate as professionals is voluntary or optional.
The legal term mandamus (from which mandatory comes) refers to an order issued by a court to compel a public official to exercise a power in accordance with his or her duty; the Latin means we command. So mandatory will for us mean made obligatory by legislation, or in other words, a statutory obligation that is imposed on those within its scope of operation. When something is mandatory then all room for discretionary compliance is ruled out.