Governor Signs AB 652 Restricting Reporting Requirements for Homeless and Unaccompanied Minors

On October 2, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 652 into to law which clarifies the reporting requirements under the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act.  Specifically the bill states, “the fact that a child is homeless or is classified as an unaccompanied minor…is not, in and of itself, a sufficient basis for reporting child abuse or neglect.”

AB 652 applies the federal definitions of homeless and unaccompanied minor found in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.  Homeless is defined as an individual or family who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. This includes an individual or family who lives in a shelter, car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, airport, or camping ground.  The definition of homeless also includes individuals who will imminently lose their housing, including housing they own, rent, or live in without paying rent, or are sharing with others, and rooms in hotels or motels not paid for by federal or state governments.  Unaccompanied minors are defined as pupils under the age of eighteen who are considered homeless and have experienced a long term period without living independently in permanent housing.

Existing law requires school district personnel to report to the county welfare department or probation department whenever they have knowledge or observe a child which they reasonably suspect to be the victim of child abuse or neglect.  A district staff member can be said to reasonably suspect child abuse when an objectively reasonable person with the same training and experience would entertain a suspicion the child is a victim of abuse or neglect.  Thus suspicion does not require certainty or even a specific medical indication of child abuse.  District personnel who fail to report can be subject to criminal and civil penalties.

In most cases, school personnel who report when they reasonably suspect abuse or neglect of a child have immunity from criminal and civil penalties.  However school personnel can be liable if they knowingly report a false incident or recklessly disregard the truth in their report.

School district personnel may feel compelled to report neglect and abuse arising out of the experience of being without a home because of the fear of sanctions for not reporting.  However, AB 652 requires school district personnel to base their decision to report abuse or neglect on additional factors besides homelessness.  These include but are not limited to, physical bruising, visible malnourishment, poor hygiene, unexplained or improbable injury, anxiety, depression, social maladjustment, fear of returning home, withdrawn behavior, or any significant behavior shifts.

[Note: Kevin Fannan, Law Clerk in AALRR’s San Diego office, contributed to the drafting of this post]

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