November 16, 2011

What if JoePa worked for you?

Posted in Child Abuse and Neglect, Negligence tagged , , , , at 11:00 am by Tom Jacobson

The alleged child abuse that ultimately led to the ouster of legendary football coach Joe Paterno is heinous. And, as armchair quarterbacks watching the drama unfold on the flat screens in our man-caves, it’s easy to second-guess whether JoePa or anyone else at Penn State could or should have done more.  But, rather than debate what they should have done, perhaps the focus should be on the responsibilities we have if we know of or suspect child abuse.

Minnesota has enacted a mandatory reporting law known as the Child Abuse Reporting Act (CARA).  Under this law, certain people who work with children are designated as mandated reporters.  Included in the list are teachers, child care workers, health care providers, law enforcement personnel, clergy, etc.  If  they know or have reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected, mandated reporters are required to report it to the appropriate authorities. An “internal” report to the reporter’s employer is not enough because CARA clearly states that reports must be made “to the local welfare agency, agency responsible for assessing or investigating the report, police department, or the county sheriff.”

CARA also allows anyone to voluntarily report known or suspected child abuse. As with mandated reports, voluntary reports are to be made to the appropriate authorities.

Failing to make a mandated report is a crime, for mandated reporters who ignore their duties can be convicted of a misdemeanor.   Conversely, by making good faith reports, mandated and voluntary reporters are immune from criminal and civil liability.

Although the Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that CARA does not by itself create a civil cause of action that could be brought against a reporter or reporter’s employer that fails to make a report, the Court has ruled that an obligation to report may be evidence of a standard of care that is owed by the employer to the victim.  Thus, it does not take too much imagination to see how an employer that employs mandated reporters could be held liable for a failure to report.

So, the lesson to be learned from Penn State’s mistakes is that Minnesota employers who employ people who work with children must understand CARA. At a minimum, they must understand who are mandated reporters and when and to whom the reports must be made. The failure to do so can subject employees and employers alike to liability. More importantly, failure means that all we learned from JoePa is how to win football games. We owe our children more than that.

For more information about this article, please contact me at

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2011 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz, PA



  1. Joni Jacobson said,

    I’m biased, but this is so clearly written and timely. Thanks, Dear. Oh, BTW, supper is ready. 🙂

  2. Tammie Lanners said,

    Great article! Thanks for keeping us informed.

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