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Everybody Must Report Suspected Child Abuse: N.M. Supreme Court

Everybody in New Mexico must report suspected child abuse and neglect, the state's highest court has ruled.

In an opinion released Monday, New Mexico's Supreme Court clarified that the state's mandatory child-abuse reporting requirements applied to all residents of the state, not just to certain publicly employed professionals.

New Mexico already has a law requiring everybody to report child abuse. So why was this ruling necessary?

The Language of the Statute

This ruling overturned a prior 2013 Court of Appeals ruling that prevented an accused abuser's social worker and ex-wife from disclosing statements made during counseling to law enforcement.

The confusion about who is and who isn't required to report abuse apparently stemmed from the old wording of New Mexico's reporting statute. The statute first used the words "every person," but then went on to list 10 specific categories of occupations that must report child abuse. The appellate court took the wording to mean that the statute only applied to those 10 specified categories of people -- specifically, publicly employed social workers and not privately employed social workers.

To resolve the conflict, New Mexico's House of Representatives passed legislation removing the language about specific categories of occupations from the statute. With the change in legislation and the court's recent ruling, it should be clear that everybody in New Mexico, regardless of profession, must report suspected child abuse.

Signs of Child Abuse

Forty-eight states have statutes requiring professionals to report suspected child abuse, but only 18 states, including New Mexico, require it of all residents.

Still, child abuse and neglect can often be hard to identify. Some signs of abuse or neglect to look out for include:

  • Physical injuries, such as bruises, black eyes, or cuts;
  • Inadequate hygiene;
  • Malnutrition and lack of growth;
  • Withdrawn demeanor; and/or
  • Depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem.

How to Report Child Abuse

If you believe or suspect a child is being abused or neglected, you can contact your local child protective services office or the local police. You only need a reasonable suspicion based on your own observations to make a report. Write down incidents of suspected child abuse as they happen so that you'll have a clearer recollection of them later on. You shouldn't be afraid to report abuse because you don't have "evidence."

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