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How mandatory reporting works when child abuse is suspected

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Posted at 7:38 PM, Oct 22, 2019

DENVER -- While prosecutors begin to prepare their case against the Colorado mother accused of murdering her daughter, people who know the family and many others who don’t have started asking whether there were any warning signs that could have prevented the tragedy.

Olivia Gant was the 7-year-old Make-a-Wish recipient who passed away in 2017 from what was thought to be a terminal illness.

On Monday, the Douglas County District Attorney’s office released a 17-page indictment charging her mother, Kelly Renee Turner (Gant), with first-degree murder, child abuse and charitable fraud among other things.

Colorado has a law that requires some people in positions of trust to report suspicions of abuse and neglect to authorities. They are called mandatory reporters and include doctors, dentists, therapists, police officers, firefighters, pharmacists and more.

“If you are a mandatory reporter, which a medical professional is, you are obligated to call us and to make that report of concern about what you suspect or know,” said Laura Solomon, the division of child welfare intake administrator for the state of Colorado.

Mandatory reporters go through training each year about their obligations and how to spot signs of abuse and neglect.

“They understand their responsibility in reporting and they also understand that by not reporting, a child could be left in danger or harm,” Solomon said.

Mandatory reporters who are found to know something was wrong and not alert authorities could face civil and criminal penalties.

“The doctor can be charged for a failure to report, which is a crime, a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and the doctor is liable for damages that follow reasonably from the doctor’s failure to report,” said criminal defense lawyer Dan Recht.

Recht has represented doctors who have been accused of non-reporting in the past and says the burden of proof for the criminal cases is much higher than civil cases.

In criminal cases, prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, however in civil cases, lawyers have to prove it was more likely than not that the professional knew something was wrong and did nothing about it.

“In addition, the medical board can take away a doctor’s license and may well do that in the case of a blatant failure to report,” Recht said.

Medical professionals who fail to report could face probation, suspension or a total loss of their license.

In some cases, prosecutors might grant mandatory reporters immunity in exchange for testimony that could result in the prosecution of an alleged abuser. However, Recht says that is rare.

In the case of Olivia Gant, 11 medical professionals were named in the indictment as witnesses. Some of the doctors said they knew that Olivia was not terminal.

Others told police that they questioned Turner’s medical decisions for her daughter and even gave pushback when Turner decided to remove her daughter from treatment. It is unclear whether any of them reported their concerns to authorities.

The Colorado Children’s Hospital did alert authorities when Turner started bringing in Olivia’s sister for treatment last summer and falsely claimed that the girl had been diagnosed with cancer in the past. That report spurred the investigation that eventually lead to Turner’s arrest.

Solomon could not comment on Gant’s case specifically but said anytime there is a case of abuse that results in the death of a child, an investigation happens by the department and an ombudsman to try to figure out if something should have been done differently.

However, it is not only mandatory reporters who are encouraged to alert someone if they suspect abuse or neglect. Solomon says anyone can report their concerns and remain anonymous and the information will not be given to families.

The Colorado Department of Human Services says it is receiving more calls in recent years, which it believes is a sign people are beginning to trust the reporting system more.

The bottom line for the state DHS, though, is there’s no harm in reporting concerns and no punishment for people who report concerns that are found to be untrue.

“If you know or suspect that abuse or neglect is occurring whether you are a medical professional, it doesn’t matter who you are, you should call us,” Solomon said. “We would like to air on the side of caution. We know that if we don’t get reports of abuse or neglect, that a child could be harmed or in danger.”

If you suspect abuse or neglect, you can report it by calling 1-844-CO-4-KIDS (1‑844‑264‑5437. Learn more at co4kids.org.