Georgia has a new Child Abuse Reporting Statute that became effective July 1, 2012. Every church needs to know what our new law includes and how it effects our ministries with children and youth. The new law is found in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated Title 19-7-5. Three key provisions for churches to be fully aware of follow:
1. The law defines “Child service organization personnel” as persons employed by or volunteering at a business or an organization, whether public, private, for profit, not for profit, or voluntary, that provides care, treatment, education, training, supervision, coaching, counseling, recreational programs, or shelter to children”. Then, the law states that Child service organization personnel, “having reasonable cause to believe that a child has been abused shall report or cause reports of that abuse to be made a provided in this Code section.” Therefore, under our Georgia law, your volunteers and staff members in ministries with children and youth are mandatory of child abuse.
2. The law requires that reports of child abuse be made “no later than 24 yours from the time there is reasonable cause to believe a child has been abused, by telephone or otherwise and followed by a report in writing, if requested, toa child welfare agency providing protective services, as designated by the Department of Human Services, or, in the absence of such agency, to an apporpriate police authority or district attorney.” Your ministry leaders must know the DFACS office or the sheriff’s office contact information so that the appropriate reports can be made with the law’s time limits.
3. The law makes it clear that clergy must report child abuse. The only circumstance in which clergy may not report child abuse is the situation where a clergy person’s only knowledge of the abuse is a confession by the perpetrator which is “required to be kept confidential under church doctrine or practice.” The 2012 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, Paragraph 341.5 states, “All clergy of The United Methodist Church are charged to maintain all confidences inviolate, including confessional confidences, except in the cases of suspected child abuse or neglect or in cases whre mandatory reporting is required by civil law.” This illustrates that the United Methodist doctrine does not require clergy to keep knowledge of child abuse confidential. Other denominations may have slightly different provisions. In light of your denomination’s doctrine, it is important to review the Georgia Child Abuse Reporting Statute to be sure your staff and volunteers understand the responsibilities and requirements for reporting abuse.
You can find the complete text of the Georgia child abuse reporting statute in 2012 House Bill 1176, portions of which are quoted above, posted online at www.legis.ga.gov. For additional information, contact Joy Melton by email: firstname.lastname@example.org