Volume 33, Issue 2 (March 1988)
Child Abuse Reporting Trends: An Unprecedented Threat to Confidentiality
Some recent interpretations of the child abuse laws are creating serious and unprecedented erosions of therapist/patient confidentiality. In contrast to the Tarasoff decisions and laws, the child abuse statutes introduced a new element of mandatory reporting which permits no discretionary alternatives and presents prospects of criminal penalties for failure to report. A recent development suggests a possible requirement for therapists to violate confidentiality for the sole purpose of punishing perpetrators. Overinterpretations of the laws by some child protective services have led to recommendations that long past child abuse must be reported, even when no current child is in danger. The California Attorney General's Office has issued a clarification stating that the child abuse statute refers to children and not to adults molested as children. A survey of forensic psychiatrists and psychologists shows that most perceived an ethical problem in reporting adults molested as children when no is presently in danger, and the purpose of the report is solely for maximal legal self-protection. The survey indicates that fears induced by rigid and intimidating child abuse laws can influence therapists to act in ways most consider unethical. Recommendations are made for improving the current child abuse laws so that they accomplish their goals more effectively.