A recent decision by the state Court of Appeals puts a troubling limit on a law intended to protect children because it exempts relatives, among others, from being required to report suspected abuse.
The law says, “Every person, including a licensed physician; a resident or an intern examining, attending or treating a child; a law enforcement officer; a judge presiding during a proceeding; a registered nurse; a visiting nurse; a school teacher; a school official; a social worker acting in an official capacity; or a member of the clergy who has information that is not privileged as a matter of law, who knows or has a reasonable suspicion that a child is an abused or a neglected child shall report the matter immediately to” authorities.
Both Gov. Susana Martinez and Attorney General Gary King say the phrase “every person” makes it clear the requirement applies to all. However, the court’s majority held that “…in our view the Legislature intended to strike a balance, imposing a duty on only those people who were most likely to encounter abused and neglected children in their professional capacities.”
Martinez called the ruling “terribly misguided,” while King said the court’s interpretation of state law “could place children in jeopardy.”
Martinez plans to ask state lawmakers to alter the law so there is no question that all people who suspect child abuse must report it.
The Legislature should tweak the law so it is clear – any and all suspected child abuse must be reported to authorities. No exceptions.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.