Many lawyers believe that only doctors, psychologists, teachers, social workers and other professionals who work with children have a duty to report child abuse. In New Jersey, however, “[a]ny person who knowingly fails to report an act of sexual abuse against a child and who has reasonable cause to believe that an act of sexual abuse has been committed is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree.” N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.14(b) (emphasis added). Attorneys representing clients and attorney mediators are not exempted from these criminal statutes. Fourth-degree crimes carry a penalty of up to 18 months in prison. N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6(a)4. For other forms of child abuse, the failure to report is a disorderly persons offense, N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.14(a), carrying up to six months in jail, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-8.
The definition of an abused child, at N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.9, for purposes of the reporting statute is:
[A] child under the age of 18 years whose parent, guardian, or other person having his custody and control: a. Inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon such child physical injury by other than accidental means which causes or creates a substantial risk of death, or serious or protracted disfigurement, or protracted impairment of physical or emotional health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ; b. Creates or allows to be created a substantial or ongoing risk of physical injury to such child by other than accidental means which would be likely to cause death or serious or protracted disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ; or c. Commits or allows to be committed an act of sexual abuse against the child; d. Or a child whose physical, mental, or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired as the result of the failure of his parent or guardian, or such other person having his custody and control, to exercise a minimum degree of care (1) in supplying the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, medical or surgical care though financially able to do so or though offered financial or other reasonable means to do so, or (2) in providing the child with proper supervision or guardianship, by unreasonably inflicting or allowing to be inflicted harm, or substantial risk thereof, including the infliction of excessive corporal punishment or using excessive physical restraint under circumstances which do not indicate that the child’s behavior is harmful to himself, others or property; or by any other act of a similarly serious nature requiring the aid of the court; e. Or a child who has been willfully abandoned ….