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Continuing Education for Health Professionals

IA: Child Abuse, A Guide for Mandatory Reporters

Module 2

Am I a Mandatory Reporter of Child Abuse?

Iowa law defines classes of people who must make a report of child abuse within 24 hours when they reasonably believe a child has suffered abuse. These mandatory reporters are professionals who have frequent contact with children, generally in one of six disciplines:

  • Health
  • Education
  • Childcare
  • Mental health
  • Law enforcement
  • Social work

Included as mandatory reporters are all licensed physicians and surgeons, physician assistants, dentists, licensed dental hygienists, optometrists, podiatrists, chiropractors, and residents or interns in any of these professions; and registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, basic and advanced emergency medical care providers.

Also included are any of the following persons who, in the scope of professional practice or in their employment responsibilities, examines, attends, counsels, or treats a child:

  • Social worker
  • Employee or operator of a public or private healthcare facility as defined in Iowa Code section 135C.1
  • Certified psychologist
  • Licensed school employee, certified para-educator, or holder of a coaching authorization issued under Iowa Code section 272.31, or an instructor employed by a community college
  • Employee or operator of a licensed childcare center, registered child development home, Head Start program, Family Development and Self-Sufficiency Grant program under Iowa Code section 216A.107, or Healthy Opportunities for Parents to Experience Success—Healthy Families Iowa program under Iowa Code section 135.106
  • Employee or operator of a substance abuse program or facility licensed under Iowa Code Chapter 125
  • Employee of an institution operated by DHS listed in Iowa Code section 218.1
  • Employee or operator of a juvenile detention or juvenile shelter care facility approved under Iowa Code section 232.142
  • Employee or operator of a foster care facility licensed or approved under Iowa Code Chapter 237
  • Employee or operator of a mental health center
  • Peace officer
  • Counselor or mental health professional
  • Employee or operator of a provider of services to children funded under a federally approved medical assistance home- and community-based services waiver

The employer or supervisor of a person who is a mandatory reporter shall not apply a policy, work rule, or other requirement that interferes with the person making a report of child abuse.

Clergy members are not considered to be mandatory reporters unless they are functioning as social workers, counselors, or another role described as a mandatory reporter. If a member of clergy provides counseling services to a child, and the child discloses an abuse allegation, then the clergy member is mandated to report as a counselor. (The counseling is provided to a child during the scope of the reporter’s profession as a counselor, not clergy.)

Healthcare Workers

Health service professionals play many roles in the recognition and treatment of child abuse, including the recognition of the abuse, reporting the suspected abuse, crisis intervention, and long-term treatment. Health services personnel are often the first line of defense in the early detection of child abuse. Most health professionals who treat children are required to be mandatory reporters of child abuse.

Healthcare professionals are often called upon to work collaboratively with many other disciplines, including social work, education, law enforcement, and the courts, to ensure a multi-disciplinary approach to the recognition and treatment of child abuse.

A healthcare practitioner may, if medically indicated, take or cause to be taken a radiologic examination, physical examination, or other medical test of the child or take photographs that would provide medical indications for the child abuse assessment.

A physician has the authority to keep a child in custody without a court order and without the consent of a parent, guardian, or custodian, provided that the child is in a circumstance or condition that presents an imminent danger to the child’s life or health. However, the physician must orally notify the court within 24 hours. The ability to take or keep a child in custody is unique to physicians and peace officers.


Educators may spend more hours per day with children than their families. That’s why the role of educators is vital in the mandatory reporting process. All licensed school employees, teachers, coaches, and para-educators are mandatory reporters.

The involvement of educators in the reporting of child abuse is mandated or supported by federal standards and regulations and by state laws, policies, and procedures. Each of these government levels provides authority for, encourages, or mandates educator involvement in the reporting process by stating what is required of the educator and how that obligation is to be fulfilled.

The primary authority at the federal level is the Federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974. This act, which governs the release of information from school records, does not bar the reporting of suspected child abuse by educators.

In the majority of cases, educators will be relying, not on school records, but on their own personal knowledge and observations when reporting child abuse. Because no school records are involved in these cases, FERPA does not apply.

In a small number of cases, it may be necessary to consult school records to determine whether a report of child abuse should be made. Ordinarily, parental consent is required before information contained in school records can be released. However, there are exceptions that can apply in cases of child abuse.

Some local school systems and boards of education have enacted school policies and procedures regarding child abuse reporting. The policies and procedures support state law with regard to reporting and often provide internal mechanisms to be followed when a report of child abuse is made. Local school policy may specify that parents be notified when the school makes a report of child abuse. If so, notify DHS of that local policy when making the report of child abuse. Sometimes local procedure may require that administrative staff be notified when a report of child abuse is made and a copy of the written report be filed.

Childcare Workers

Childcare providers play a critical role in keeping children safe. It is very important for them to report when they suspect child abuse. Childcare providers include childcare staff, foster parents, and residential care personnel. All of these people are mandatory reporters. A childcare provider who suspects that a child has been abused should report that to DHS and to the licensing worker.

Mental Health Professionals

Mental health professionals are often trusted with intimate information about children and families. This makes their role critical when reporting child abuse. All counseling providers, even those who are self-employed, are mandatory reporters of child abuse in regard to the child they counsel.

Law Enforcement Officers

Law enforcement officers play a very important role in protecting our children from child abuse. Law enforcement officers are seen as a symbol of public safety. They are in an excellent position to raise community awareness about child abuse.

Law enforcement officers often encounter situations that involve child abuse. For example, on domestic calls or during drug arrests the officer may learn of information that constitutes an allegation of child abuse. Children residing in homes where methamphetamine is being manufactured or where precursors are present constitutes an allegation of child abuse as well as possible criminal charges. Law enforcement is mandated to report to DHS.

Law enforcement officers who suspect child abuse in the line of duty are required to report that abuse to the Department of Human Services as soon as they suspect it. Law enforcement officers need to follow the same procedures as all mandatory reporters in reporting child abuse. Law enforcement and child protective services may need to work together. Sometimes child protective service workers must visit isolated, dangerous locations and deal with unstable, violent, or substance abusing individuals.

Child protective service workers sometimes do not have on-site communications (although today most have cell phones), weapons, or special training in self-protection. It is often necessary for law enforcement personnel to accompany child protective workers to conduct their assessment. Failure to have proper backup may have unfortunate consequences to both the child protection worker and the child who may have been abused.

Law enforcement has the power to arrest and to enforce any standing orders of the court. When it is necessary to remove a child from the child’s home, law enforcement officers are often called upon for assistance. Law enforcement has the general authority to take custody of children.

Law enforcement is often able to react to emergency situations faster than child protective services. Law enforcement is also available 24 hours a day, while the child protection workers’ after-hour response is limited in some communities.

Others Required to Report

Some employers may have specific policies that require certain training and reporting procedures regarding child abuse for their staff, even when they are not by law considered mandatory reporters.


Did You Know. . .

Reporters who by law are not considered mandatory reporters will be considered permissive reporters regardless of the employer’s requirements.


Iowa Administrative Code 441-175.23(2) mandates certified adoption investigators and DHS income maintenance workers to report suspected abuse. Income maintenance workers and certified adoption investigators are “mandated,” not mandatory reporters. As such, they are not required to make a written report, although they may do so if they wish. They receive the same information and notices as permissive reporters. They are not entitled to written notification that the assessment has been completed nor to a copy of information placed on the Registry. However, they may receive a copy of the report if they have another role with the child that allows access to the summary.

Required Training for Mandatory Reporters

Mandatory reporters are required by law to complete 2 hours of training during their first six months of employment and 2 hours every five years thereafter (IC 232.69).

The Iowa Administrative Rules, Chapter 93, designates the Iowa Department of Public Health to review and approve mandatory reporter training curricula for those persons who work in a position classification that under law makes the persons mandatory reporters of child or dependent adult abuse and the position classification does not have a mandatory reporter training curriculum approved by a licensing or examining board. In 2014 the code language in place since 2001 that mandated an abuse education review panel was revised (IDPH, 2017).

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