Bearing false witness against one’s neighbor is an act so grievous that God explicitly prohibited it in the Ten Commandments. Being falsely accused of doing something wrong is serious business. It is especially dangerous when it means you could lose your liberty or your children.
It seems obvious that false reporters of child abuse or neglect should be civilly and even criminally liable for their actions. However, only a few states hold false reporters as accountable as they should. A handful of states consider false reporting of child abuse a felony, but the majority only classify it as a misdemeanor. An even smaller number of states specifically allow someone falsely accused to sue the false accuser. A few states nearly entirely remove liability for child abuse reporters by giving them almost absolute immunity. This research evaluates the false reporting and immunity laws for reporters of child abuse in the states.
When it comes to reporting child abuse or neglect, state laws have a list of mandated reporters–people who are required by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect. At a minimum, this usually includes law enforcement, child care workers, health professionals, and school personnel, though anyone is allowed to report. The list of mandated reporters in some states is quite extensive. In a large number of states, even regular citizens are required by law to report suspected abuse or neglect. State law usually allows reporters of child abuse or neglect to remain confidential or even completely anonymous.
Nearly every state includes a statute granting some form of immunity for reporters of child abuse or neglect. Most states refer to this as good faith immunity. In legal terms, good faith means, “A state of mind consisting in (1) honesty in belief or purpose, (2) faithfulness to one’s duty or obligation, (3) observance of reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing in a given trade or business, or (4) absence of intent to defraud or to seek unconscionable advantage.”1 So good faith immunity protects a reporter who honestly believes they may be reporting or preventing child abuse or neglect. Many states presume that all reporters are acting in good faith until proven otherwise. Under good faith immunity statutes, providing some evidence that a report was not made in good faith should be sufficient to overcome the immunity. Many states specify what circumstances override reporter immunity.
For many states, the immunity statute is the only law regarding liability of any kind for reporters. That means false reporting of child abuse or neglect is not even specifically prohibited by law. Because of this, we have included general false reporting and perjury statutes under which false reporting of child abuse could be punishable.
Parents may want to be familiar with the law dealing with false reporting in their states. Not only does this knowledge give you insight into the potential likelihood of being falsely reported, it also reveals what your legal recourse could be, or not be, if your family were the victim of a false report. If you are a member, you can visit our Law and Policy page to find the law in your state.
If you are a member of Heritage Defense and still have questions after reviewing our Law & Policy page about False Reports, please contact our office to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.
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1Good Faith, Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014).