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To handle the tough questions, CMHCs need support networks.

As clinical mental health counselors, we know that client confidentiality is as important as the primary directive to do no harm.

Yet, events occur that lead to new laws or legislation that affect counseling professional goals and ethics--and sometimes even apparently contradict them.

For instance, the Tarasoff decisions in the mid-1970s have had an impact on the counseling profession by requiring counselors to warn authorities or third parties outside of the counseling relationship of potential danger from a client.

Mandatory Reporting for Suspected Child Abuse

Though not all states mandate such a warning, all states have some type of mandated reporting for suspected child abuse, and those statutes identify persons who are required by law to report suspected child abuse.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway issues a report for the Children's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services <https://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/manda.cfm> that lists the statutes by state related to mandatory reporting and mandatory reporters. Counselors, mental health professionals, and therapists are professionals with a mandated duty to report suspected child abuse.

For a novice counselor, defining what suspected child abuse entails can be a challenging task. Even more challenging is that each state has its own statutes and definitions.

In Florida, the Kayla McKean Child Protection Act, known as "Kayla's Law" <http://laws.flrules.org/node/1294>, makes it a felony for anyone 18 or older to fail to report child abuse. The law was passed in 1999 after a 6-year-old Florida girl named Kayla McKean was beaten to death by her father.

This law was further strengthened when eight of the 10 social workers who had seen Kayla were found to have failed to act in an appropriate manner that could have saved her life.

Florida Statutes [section] 39.001 to 39.908 (1999) included the laws, definitions, designated reporters, and penalties for failing to report suspected child abuse in the state of Florida. it is important for counselors to become familiar with their state's laws and understand the definitions within statutes.

Laws Change, and Definitions Have the Potential to Cause Confusion

In Florida Statutes [section] 39.205 (2), it is considered an extenuating circumstance if a victim of domestic violence does not report suspected child abuse due to safety concerns (1999). Yet, nothing in the statutes explains if the counselor can refrain from reporting suspected child abuse in the home of a client who is a victim of domestic violence.

Once again, our professional ethics clash with the law and our primary goal to do no harm. A counselor is a mandated reporter; choosing between a client's safety and a child's safety is not an easy call. These decisions should not be made alone or taken lightly.

Professional Counselors Need a Network for Support

Whether in private practice or working for an organization questions with no simple answers will arise. Legal and ethical questions, when they are at odds with one another, are among the most difficult types of challenges for counselors.

Mandated reporting is a reality for all professional counselors. Many states provide easy Internet access to statutes, and it is wise to stay updated on state laws. Penalties for failing to report range from misdemeanor to felony charges and from fines to prison.

CMHCs want to avoid penalties, of course, but they also want to avoid making things worse with a family and child instead of better. So it's important that they seek consultation or supervision before the call of mandated reporter is made. They need to be sure they have collected all of the needed information and asked all of the correct questions, such as is there bruising, etc.

Building the important support networks all CMHC need at some points in their careers is an important, ongoing process.

Likewise, asking colleagues, organizations, and other professionals for support in understanding mandated reporting and other challenges should be a continuous professional goal for clinical mental health counselors.

By Gail Amalfitano, GSC Midwestern Liaison, Walden University
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Title Annotation:Student Corner; Community Mental Health Centers
Author:Amalfitano, Gail
Publication:The Advocate (American Mental Health Counselors Association)
Date:Mar 1, 2015
Words:669
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