From: Mary Minow, LibraryLaw.com
Subject: Librarians as Mandated Reporters
Question presented: Should public librarians, specifically librarians who work with children and teens, be added to the roster of City mandated reporters?
It is not advisable. Librarians are not listed in the Mandated Reporter categories and do not supervise the public.
The California Child Abuse & Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA) at California Penal Code Section 11165.7(a) defines 44 categories of “mandated reporter.” Librarians are not included in that list. The issue is whether the following broad category could include library staff.
(8) An administrator or employee of a public or private
organization whose duties require direct contact and supervision of
The application of this provision is fact-based. When do library employees’ duties require direct contact and supervision of children? Largely the answer is that librarians do not supervise children.
Libraries tend to explicitly state as much, as in the Berkeley Unattended Children policy (italics added):
The Berkeley Public Library welcomes children of all ages. Library staff strive to provide a safe and appropriate environment for all Library users. Our libraries, however, are public buildings, and any public place may be dangerous or frightening for a child who is left unattended even for brief periods of time. Library facilities are neither designed for nor licensed to provide childcare.
Parents and caregivers are solely responsible for the welfare and the behavior of children using the Library. Children aged seven or younger must be supervised by a responsible caregiver at all times while they are in the Library.
Even in the event that the library employee takes on a closer role with an individual child, such as:
If a child aged seven or younger is found to be unattended in any area of the Library (or an unattended child aged eight or older is found in distress), staff will stay with the child while they attempt to locate the child’s caregiver. If Library staff cannot find the child’s parent or caregiver, the Berkeley Police will be notified and asked to assume care of the child.
If a child is found unattended in the library at closing and is unable to wait for a caregiver alone, two members of staff will stay inside the library with the child while they attempt to contact a caregiver. If a parent or caregiver cannot be located or cannot take responsibility for the child in a timely manner, the Berkeley Police will be notified and asked to assume care of the child.
… the policy goes on to clearly state that
Any public place may be dangerous for a child who is left unattended even for brief periods of time. Parents and other caregivers are solely responsible for the welfare and the behavior of children using the Library.
The closest to supervision that library employees are likely to engage in with the public would be during children’s programming in which parents are excluded. Even in these cases, if the child is free to leave and rejoin his or her caregiver, the library employee is not necessarily supervising. The legal obligation that schools and day care facilities have to provide adequate supervision to children is not imposed on public libraries. For more on the definition of “adequate supervision” by schools and day care facilities, see Nolo.com http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/what-negligent-supervision.html
In such settings, and in with general work with children, it is quite possible that library staff will come in contact with children who have or could be suspected of having been abused or neglected. In fact, Lynn Kysh, a library student at UCLA found that of 92 library online survey respondents, 54% said that they had encountered an instance of suspected child abuse or neglect, in their role as information professionals. She found that 54% of respondents said that their library did not have a policy regarding suspected child abuse and neglect and only 11% said their library had a formal written policy. She recommends that every library that serves minor have a formal written policy regarding suspected child abuse and neglect, and that training be made available to all public library staff. Original Survey: http://goo.gl/0NHPu Poster: http://goo.gl/QC0Db Handout: http://goo.gl/7WVb1
Library staff in these situations are considered permissive reporters.
Permissive reporters, mandated reporters and patron confidentiality
Library staff, like “any other person,” (see California Penal Code Section 11166(g) are permissive reporters. This allows them to report real and suspected abuse without the onerous requirements faced by mandated reporters. For example, a staff member would be permitted to go to a library supervisor with the information without the requirement to report to the appropriate agency. Staff members may also make anonymous reports when they are permissive reporters.
A conflict concerning patron confidentiality arises if library staff are reclassified as mandatory reporters. California Penal Code Section 11167(a) requires reporters to supply
the child’s name, the child’s address, present location, and, if applicable, school, grade, and class; the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the child’s parents or guardians; and the name, address, telephone number, and other relevant personal information about the person or persons who might have abused or neglected the child. The mandated reporter shall make a report even if some of this information is not known or is uncertain to him or her.
The consequence for failing to report is up to six months in jail and/or $1000 fine. If found to be willful, it is up to a year in jail and/or $5000 fine. California Penal Code Section 11166.01.
On the other hand, California Government Code Section 6267 requires that patrons’ names, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses be kept confidential when the library has been given them by the patron in order to be eligible to borrow or use library materials. The only exceptions that allow this disclosure are written patron consent, administration of the library itself, or by order of the appropriate superior court.
If classified as mandated reporters, it is quite possible that staff members would violate Section 6267 in order to supply protected personal information and ensure they are not faced with stiff penalties. If they remain permissive reporters, they may still pass along tips and when warranted, a fuller investigation may proceed including a court order.
Library staff that supervise volunteers and youth employees are already included as mandated reporters and do not need new categorization
Although the library does not supervise the public, there are situations in which library staff take on a supervisory role with volunteers and youth employees. In these cases, the staff members who supervise are already included in the mandated reporter category under California Penal Code Section 11165.7(a)(8) that covers employees whose duties require direct contact and supervision of children. This narrow group of employees must have special training in the role and obligations of mandated reporters.
A proposed amendment to include librarians as mandated reporters under state law was introduced in Assembly Bill 20, by Assembly Member Waldron in the 2013-2014 Regular Session of the California Legislature. http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/13-14/bill/asm/ab_0001-0050/ab_20_bill_20121203_introduced.htm on December 3, 2012. On February 25, 2013, the provisions adding librarians were deleted. http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/13-14/bill/asm/ab_0001-0050/ab_20_bill_20130225_amended_asm_v98.htm