02.01.13.01: Guidelines for investigating allegations of child abuse

EMM’s policy on reporting allegations of child abuse directs any EMM employee, volunteer, or board member who learns of an allegation of abuse to immediately contact EMM’s Human Resources director. The Human Resources director will then assume investigative and reporting responsibilities on behalf of EMM as a whole. The purpose of the investigation will be to determine whether the allegations constitute “reasonable cause to suspect” child abuse.


The following guidelines are intended to assist the Human Resources director and the response team in responding to and investigating those allegations. The guidelines are non-binding and may be varied on a case-by-case basis.


  1. Designate a response team

After receiving a report of a child abuse allegation, the EMM Human Resources director, together with the president of EMM, shall appoint a small team of persons responsible to organize and carry out the investigation. This team will be known as the response team.


  1. Protect the child

  • Confirm the immediate safety of all involved. In consultation with legal counsel, EMM may decide to contact law enforcement directly if timing is crucial.
  • Err in the direction of protecting the child by reporting to the authorities if you believe there is reasonable cause to suspect child abuse has occurred.
  1. Interact with the alleged victim and parents

  • Notify the parents/guardians of an affected child, provided the child’s alleged offender is not the parent/guardian.
  • Receive the allegation directly from the alleged victim and document the complaint. Be careful not to ask leading questions. Have at least two persons present when interacting with the alleged victim.
  • Outline EMM’s investigative procedure to the alleged victim.
  • Be careful not to make promises about the outcome of the investigation.

  1. Interact with the alleged offender

  • If allegations of child abuse are made against an EMM employee or another person under EMM’s control, EMM will place that employee or person on temporary paid leave while an investigation takes place.  
  • Any discussion with or questioning of the alleged offender should be done in the presence of at least two persons and be fully documented.
  • Any interaction with and questioning of the alleged offender should be done in a non-accusatory and objective manner. The focus will be on gathering the facts about what happened.
  • Those doing the questioning should be fair, impartial, and not assume facts or jump to conclusions.
  1. Interact with witnesses or other individuals

  • If additional individuals are contacted about the alleged incident, at least two persons should be present and all interactions should be fully documented.
  • Those persons contacting witnesses or other individuals should not give opinions or speculate about what happened but should seek to gather as many facts as possible and document what is said by each individual.
  • Document whether the individual being interviewed has firsthand knowledge or is repeating information she or he heard from someone else. Dates, times, and the names and contact information of other individuals with information should be documented as well.

Reporting allegations of child abuse in the U.S.

All EMM employees, board members, and volunteers shall immediately report any allegation of child abuse to the EMM Human Resources director. The Human Resources director will investigate the allegation and, together with a response team, decide whether to report the allegations to social welfare and law enforcement officials.


State law mandates that persons who have reasonable cause to suspect child abuse must make an oral (phone) report to the state Department of Public Welfare “immediately” and follow up with a written report to state and county social welfare authorities within forty-eight hours of the oral report.  


EMM’s obligations regarding allegations of child abuse

EMM has a moral obligation to protect victims of child abuse and to confront the perpetrators of abuse. EMM also has a duty to its constituency to avoid exposing the agency to liability by failing to act when it receives credible reports of abuse. Practically speaking, EMM has a duty to alert its insurance carrier whenever an incident occurs which may entail civil liability for EMM. Finally, EMM has reporting obligations to state and county social welfare agencies.


Under Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law (“the Law”), persons in certain professions and vocations have a duty to immediately report to state and county welfare officials if they have “reasonable cause to suspect,” based on their training and experience, that a child (a person under 18 years of age) under their care, supervision, guidance or training, or a child under the care, supervision, guidance, or training of an agency, institution, organization, or entity with which they are affiliated, is a victim of child abuse.


The Law says members of the clergy are required, with a few exceptions, to report to state and county welfare officials when they have reasonable cause to suspect child abuse. The Law also states, however, that any person – not only those with a duty to report -- may report if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is an abused child. EMM may report to state and county welfare authorities even in cases where the Law would make such reporting permissive rather than mandatory. EMM may also, in consultation with legal counsel, contact law enforcement officials.


How the Law defines child abuse

The Law defines “child abuse” quite broadly. Child abuse is an act or failure to act which causes non-accidental serious physical injury to a child under 18. Abuse is also an act or failure to act which causes non-accidental serious mental injury to, or sexual abuse or sexual exploitation of, a child. Sexual abuse or exploitation encompasses behaviors such as persuading a child to engage in sexually explicit conduct or simulations of such conduct. It also includes photographing, videotaping, or otherwise depicting sexually explicit conduct involving a minor. Reportable behavior under the Law even includes any act or failure to act which creates an imminent risk of serious physical injury to, or sexual abuse or exploitation of, a child.


Understanding “reasonable cause to suspect” child abuse

“Reasonable cause to suspect” is not precisely defined in the Law. It lies somewhere between a bare allegation and a definitive determination that the allegations are “founded” or “unfounded.” The Law recognizes that deciding whether “reasonable cause to suspect” child abuse exists will entail discretionary judgment, and that it will nearly always be necessary for those who investigate an allegation of abuse to ask questions. Because of the promptness and extreme care with which allegations of child abuse must be investigated, the sole responsibility of EMM employees, board members and volunteers will be to immediately report any allegation of abuse to the Human Resources director. The Human Resources director and a response team will then assume investigative and reporting responsibilities on behalf of EMM as a whole. The person who reported the allegation to the Human Resources director shall not discuss the allegations with anyone else. The Human Resources director cannot, however, guarantee that the source of the allegations will remain anonymous.


Additional steps if child abuse takes place in U.S.

  1. At any time after an allegation of child abuse is received, the Human Resources director and response team should consult with legal counsel if uncertain how to proceed.

  2. If EMM makes a report to the state Department of Welfare, the county Children and Youth Services and/or law enforcement, EMM should designate the Human Resources director or another person as EMM’s contact person to communicate with the authorities, assist in the investigation, and receive updates about the disposition of the case. The Child Line phone number for reporting abuse to state/county social welfare officials is 800-932-0313.  

  3. If EMM makes a report to a state or county social service agency because it has reasonable cause to believe that child abuse has occurred, EMM will have someone present, as a neutral observer, at any interview conducted by that social service agency’s assigned caseworker.

  4. EMM needs to notify its insurance carrier of any possible claims.

12/09
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