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Any registered health care practitioner is required to make mandatory reporting according to Australian Health Practitioner Regulation (Atkins, Lacey, & Britton 2011).  Accepted professional standards must be taken into account in any report. Moreover, the reporting party must understand and articulate how the notifiable conduct departs from these professional standards (Atkins et al 2011). Mandatory reporting laws define types of conditions of abuse and neglect that must be reported to particular protection services (Morrisey & Reddy 2006). The threshold of reporting child abuse and elder abuse differs between states and territories. Its breach incurs criminal and other charges (Morrisey & Reddy 2006). Compulsory notification is required in a number of states and is governed by corresponding protection acts of these states (Donald 2012). Moreover, notifiable conduct is required to be reported after its recognition as unprofessional behaviour, poor performance, or either impairment (Weir 2011).  

Therefore, the following questions are answered in the essay: a) Why notification is required in reporting child abuse, neglect, and elder abuse, and what legislation and laws govern this requirement? b) Who should the notification be reported to and what are the consequences for not reporting?

The research paper includes description of protection acts’ prescriptions, criminal charges, fines incurring in the events of failure to report, and significance of the notification submission. 

Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse and Child Neglect

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Mandatory reporting is based on ethical codes and laws that permit disclosure of confidential information in the interest of the client if he/she is deemed to be suicidal (Morrisey & Reddy 2006). Child abuse includes physical injury, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical, or emotional neglect (Morrisey & Reddy 2006). A nurse has grounds for reporting suspected abuse if: a) somebody informs that a child has been abused or neglected; b) a child informs that she/he has been abused or neglected; c) professional observations gave reasons to assume abuse or neglect (Morrisey & Reddy 2006). These observations include recorded examination findings and photographed suspicious injuries caused by abuse or neglect (Cameron & Jelinek 2011). The requirement to report suspicions about child abuse concerns all children up to age of 18 years (Morrisey & Reddy 2006). However, these requirements differ among states and territories.

According to Children and Young People Act (2008) paragraph 356 enrolled and registered nurses of Australian Capital Territory should report reasonable suspicions that a child or young person is suffering or had suffered sexual abuse or non-accidental injury (Forrester & Griffiths 2010). Abuse in the Act is defined as physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological injuries including witnessing those forms of abuse of any person under 12 years old (Salter 2009). Reports should be made to Department of Disability, Housing, and Community Services Office for Children, Youth, and Family Support (Salter 2009).

According to New South Wales Children and Young Persons/Care and Protections Act 1998 paragraph 27 the duty to report reasonable grounds of child’s risk of harm is imposed when safety, well-being, or welfare of a child or young person are threatened and their physical, psychological, or medical needs are not being met or provided for (Forrester & Griffiths 2010). It is mandatory to report suspected abuse of young people aged 16 and 17 years to the Director General of the Department of Community Services (Morrisey & Reddy 2006; Salter 2009). Relevant criminal records, apprehended violence orders, and employment proceedings are in the discretion of the abovementioned department and other screening agencies (Salter 2009).

The Northern Territory Care and Protection of Children Act 2007 in paragraphs 15 and 26 requires any person who suspects maltreatment of children to report their suspicions to the police or Minister for Community Welfare (Forrester & Griffiths 2010). Third Report Rule defines requirement for proceeding investigation of three consequent reports made from the same facility within 12-month period when a child was residing in the facility (Bromfield & Higgins 2005).

In Queensland, the Child Protection Act (1999) defines “harm” as detrimental effect on child’s physical, psychological, or emotional wellbeing caused by the abuse or exploitation (Forrester & Griffiths 2010, p. 456). The PublicHealth Act (2005) imposes a mandatory obligation on a professional who while carrying out his/her practice suspects or becomes aware that a child has been or is likely to be harmed, to make a report to the Chief Executive of the Department of Child Safety (Salter 2009). A notification must include child’s name, the address where the child resides, names and contact details of parents, details of the harm and the name and contact details of the notifier (Forrester & Griffiths 2010).

In South Australia the Children’s Protection Act (1993) requires health care requires doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacologists, and psychologists to make notifications to the Department of Community and Family Services (Forrester & Griffiths 2010). In Victoria doctors and nurses report reasonable suspicions of abuse to the Department of Human Services, Children, Youth, and Families and Child Protection and Family Services (Salter 2009). These persons are required to apply for a Working with Children check (Salter 2009).

In Tasmania the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act (1997) in section 14th includes a prescription to submit mandatory reporting to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (Forrester & Griffiths 2010). The Commissioner for Children Tasmania released a consultation paper in 2005, which discusses proposals to introduce policies and procedures to screen individuals who seek to work with children (Salter 2009).

In Western Australia the Children and Community Service Amendment (Reporting Sexual Abuse of Children) Act 2008 is legislation that requires doctors, nurses, and midwives to report child's sexual abuse (Salter 2009). Moreover, in Western Australia there is an agreement between the Department of Health, the Department for Community Development, and the police, which requires reporting about all children under 14 years with sexually transmitted infections acquired through abuse. This is in accordance with the Western Australian Health Amendment Bill 2004 (Bromfield & Higgins 2005).

Moreover, the National Act requires health care practitioners to report certain forms of conduct and impairment to the National Agency. the latter requires the Psychology Board to distinguish between problems that arise because of unprofessional behaviour, poor performance and practice, and impairment (Leach et al 2012). A registered health practitioner has acted in a way that constitutes “notifiable conduct” if he/she was consuming drugs and alcohol while on duty, engaged in sexual misconduct during professional practice or training, his/her conduct was unacceptable under professional standards and placed the public at risk or harm (Weir 2011).

These aspects of misconduct relate not only to child abuse or neglect, but to the elder abuse as well.

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Mandatory Reporting of Older People Abuse

Australian laws do not require mandatory reporting of older people abuse (ARAS 2012). Amendements to the Aged Act 1997, which came into force from 1st of July 2007, require compulsory reporting of certain assaults, which are experienced by recipients of residential care (ARAS 2012). The National Law assumes that adults can make their own decisions about what to do about the abuses they experience (NSW Government 2011). The following forms of abuse are considered to be unlawful sexual contacts and unreasonable use of force: financial, psychological, social abuse, and neglect (NSW Government 2011).

The following legislation is provided to address abuse situations that involve older people: a) Criminal Code Act 1899, which covers criminal behavior  in situations like assault, theft, and other property offences;  b) Health Rights Commission Act 1991, which resolves complaints received from health care facilities and nursing homes as well; c) the Guardianship and Administration Act, which is designed “to protect the rights and interests of adults”, who have limited ability of decision-making and cannot prevent abuse, neglect, or exploitation (Elder Abuse Prevention 2006, p. 4).

In circumstances when people are unable to make their own decisions, their capacity is determined by a doctor (ARAS 2012). Guardianship Board accepts written reports by a general practitioner, geriatrician, or psycho-geriatrician (NSW Government 2011). Breach of these legislation prescriptions entails criminal and civil penalties.

Consequences of not Reporting Notification

According to the nationall law, if registered professional fail to inform authorities about abuse of children, this failure may incur criminal charges and the case will be at discretion of Administration of Justice (Salter 2009). In northern territory obligation to report child abuse or neglect implies a penalty, if registered notifier fails to comply (Forrester & Griffiths 2010). In western Australia failure to make a written report can result in a fine of up to $ 6,000 (Salter 2009). This failure can also result in person’s prosecution within three years (Salter 2009). The case is at “the Attorney General’s discretion” after the registered person failed to make a report (Salter 2009, p. 3). Written report must be made 24 hours after oral report. If registered person fails to do so, his/her failure can result in a fine of up to $ 3,000 (Salter 2009).

Since there are no mandatory laws for reporting older people abuse, breach of legislation acts entail the following sanctions: a) Criminal Code Act provides for harsh penalties for abuse involving rape and other sexual abuse if the victim is diagnosed as intellectually impaired; b) non-compliance to standards of the Aged Care Act can result in various penalties such as withdrawal of accreditation of health care facility or its funding (Elder Abuse Prevention Unit 2006). In other states sanctions for registered workers or private individuals, who fail to inform authorities about abuse include misdemeanor, cover of monetary damages, imprisonment, civil liability, or withdrawal of license (Queensland Law Society 2010).

Combined with provisions that require notification, mandatory reporting laws further help to bring appropriate cases to the attention of criminal justice system (Robertson & South 2007).

However, according to the analysis of reports submitted to NSW Department of Community in August 2007, 13% of them were not regarded as necessary under the Children and Young Person’s Care and Protection Act 1998 (Donald 2012). Consequently, there was a substantial over-expenditure for managing these reports (Donald 2012). Circumstances in which protection should be given to children and young people as well as requirements for notifiers should be precisely outlined according to the law (Bromfield & Higgins 2005). The need to decrease the number of notifications resulted in changing “mandatory reporting requirements to physical and sexual abuse” and introduction of new laws regarding mandatory reporting (Bromfield & Higgins, 2005, p. 10). These new regulations restrain health care professionals from submitting reports, based on the notion that they disclose private information to protection authorities without client’s consent (Cameron & Jelinek 2011). However, the Children Care and Protection Act made provisions for safeguarding the identity of the person who makes a report (Cameron & Jelinek 2011). Moreover, content of the report and the report alone cannot be used as evidence in any proceedings against the person who made the notification (Cameron & Jelinek 2011)

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Conclusion

A registered practitioner has grounds to report abuse or neglect of a child or a young person to special protection services if a child or a young person has been or is likely to be subjected to significant harm after the alleged event only if parents are unable or unwilling to protect the child. Legislation of states and territories defines the rules of reporting child abuse or neglect. These include aspects such as age of the victim and specific circumstances in which the abuse or neglect has occurred. Moreover, definition of the term “harm” varies in different states and territories and, therefore, cases where people are harmed have different reporting requirements. Mandatory reporting about older people abuse is governed by legislation acts provided by laws, which are currently used to address cases of elder abuse. Older people are assumed to be capable of making their own decisions about the experienced abuse. This is why there is no mandatory law for reporting elder people abuse. Capacity of elder people to make decisions on their own are determined by a doctor.

Failure to report abuse of children may result in criminal charges, civil liability, and withdrawal of license. Breach of existing laws, which address elder people abuse cases, entails penalties and withdrawal of funding and accreditation.

Notification is required in order to enforce the law and bring cases of abuse and neglect to the attention of criminal justice system. Appropriate documentation and recording are needed to justify submission of notifications to protection services.

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