Access to Child Abuse Reports

Child Abuse

What law controls access to child abuse reports?

The classification of law enforcement records on child abuse, other than the report itself, is found in the Data Practices Act.6 The Maltreatment of Minors Act determines the classification of child abuse records and access to those records when held by the local social services agency or the agency responsible for assessing or investigating a maltreatment report. In all cases, reports are to be collected and maintained according to standards in the Data Practices Act (accuracy, security of files, etc.).

How are child abuse reports shared among government agencies?

Police or Sheriff

If filed with the police or sheriff, a copy of the report must be forwarded to the local social services agency within 24 hours and maintained by both agencies as private data (available to the alleged abuser but not to anyone else).7 Law enforcement also must notify the local social services agency orally within 24 hours. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 3, paras. (a) and (e), subd. 7, and subd. 11, para. (a).

Local Social Service Agency

If filed with the local social services agency, a copy of the report must be forwarded to the police or sheriff within 24 hours and maintained by both agencies as private data. The local social services agency must also notify law enforcement orally within 24 hours. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 3, paras. (a) and (e), and subd. 7. If a report involves a child who is a mental health or developmental disabilities client, the agency must also immediately inform the ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10, para. (b). For purposes of compiling statistics, the local agency must send the Department of Human Services information on every report of maltreatment it receives. Minn. Rules, part 9560.0230, subp. 7.

Notifications required of law enforcement and social services agencies must be given by a designated law enforcement or local social services agency employee. Failure to provide the notification will subject that employee to disciplinary action under the applicable personnel policy or collective bargaining agreement. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 6a.

Social service and law enforcement agencies may share records with a local social services agency in another county or state that needs the information to do a child protection assessment. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subds. 10g and 10k.

The local social services agency may share report records with the case consultation committee of the multidisciplinary team, and committee members may share information with each other to assist in case consultation. Minn. Stat. § 626.558, subd. 3.

The local social services agency, investigating agency, and the police or sheriff must make their report records available to the petitioning authority in a court proceeding for a child in need of protective services or a parental rights termination action or to the prosecuting authority, including the medical examiner, in a criminal action. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 11, para. (a).

Social service agencies or investigating agencies may share otherwise private data with a mandated reporter having ongoing responsibility for the health, education, or welfare of a child that is relevant to the child’s care. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10j.

Medical Examiner

If a report is filed with the medical examiner because a death has occurred, the medical examiner must investigate and report the results to the police or sheriff and the local social services agency. If a deceased child was receiving residential treatment from a chemical dependency, mental health, or developmental disabilities agency, the coroner must notify the state ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 9.

Child Fatality

In a case where there was a child fatality or near fatality and criminal charges are brought, otherwise private information must be disclosed to the public upon request. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 11d.

Licensed Facilities and Schools

The Commissioner of Human Services, the Commissioner of Education, local social service agencies, the police or sheriff, and the ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities may examine and copy a licensed facility’s records when investigating possible abuse in the facility. When doing so, investigators may tell the facility that they are investigating a report of abuse or neglect, may disclose the alleged abuser’s name, and may give the facility a copy of the report and the investigative findings. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10, para. (g).

A board or licensing entity that receives a report of alleged maltreatment in a school must share information about the circumstances of the alleged maltreatment with the Commissioner of Education. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 3, para. (c).

Confidentiality

Personnel of governmental agencies, other than law enforcement or the local social service agency, such as the one reporting the abuse, that keeps a written copy of a report of abuse or neglect must treat the report as confidential (not available to anyone, including the alleged abuser). Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 7.

What information besides access to the report itself is shared by government agencies dealing with a child abuse report?

Interview of Victim

Law enforcement, local social services agency, or investigating agency personnel may interview an alleged victim at school if they notify the school in writing that the purpose of the interview is to investigate a child abuse report. Not later than the close of the investigation, they also must notify the child’s parent or guardian that the interview has occurred, unless a juvenile court order is obtained to allow withholding this notice. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10, paras. (c) and (d).

Reporter

The agency receiving a child abuse report must give the person who made the report, on request, a concise summary of the disposition of the report, unless that would be harmful to the child.8 A mandated reporter must be given a summary automatically, without first making a request. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 3, para. (d).

Actions in Homes. If a report involves actions in the home, the local social services agency must notify the parent or guardian within ten working days after the assessment ends of (a) the determinations made, and (b) the length of time the records will be retained before destruction. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10f.

Licensed Facilities

When a child abuse report involves a licensed facility, the parents must be notified before children are interviewed, unless reasonable attempts to reach parents of a child in out-of-home placement fail. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10b, para. (b). When the assessment concludes, the parents, facility directors, and person alleged to be maltreating the child must be notified of the determination and a summary of reasons for it. The notice must certify that statutory information collection procedures were followed and that the data subject has a right to obtain other information on herself or himself. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subds. 10d and 10f.

When a child abuse report involves personnel in a licensed facility, the local social services agency or investigating agency (a) must tell the alleged victim’s parent, guardian, or legal custodian, and (b) if the agency has reason to believe abuse or neglect has occurred, may tell other children’s parents, guardians, or legal custodians the following information:

  • the name of the facility
  • that a report was filed involving the facility
  • the kind of abuse or neglect alleged
  • that an investigation is occurring
  • any corrective measures being taken
  • that a written memorandum will be provided when the investigation ends

Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10d, paras. (a) and (b).

Within ten working days after a licensed facility investigation is completed, the local social service agency or investigating agency must give notice of the determinations made to the alleged abuser, facility director, and parent or guardian. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10f. The notice must also disclose how long records will be retained before destruction.

The written memorandum at the close of the investigation must be provided:

  • to the alleged victim’s parent, guardian, or legal custodian;
  • to other parents, guardians, or legal custodians who were previously notified of the investigation;
  • to all parents, guardians, or legal custodians of children in a facility who had contact with the individual responsible for the maltreatment, if maltreatment is determined to exist; and
  • to the parents, guardians, or legal custodians of each child who received services in the population of the facility where the maltreatment occurred, if the facility is the responsible party for maltreatment.

The memorandum must include the following information:

  • name of the facility investigated
  • nature of the alleged abuse or neglect
  • investigator’s name
  • summary of findings
  • whether maltreatment was determined to exist
  • protective or corrective measures being taken

The memorandum must protect the identities of the reporter, alleged victim, perpetrator, and those interviewed during the investigation, to the extent possible.

If the maltreatment is within a school, the Commissioner of Education may provide notification to the parents, guardians, or legal custodians of students alleged to have been maltreated or who witnessed the alleged maltreatment.

Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10d, para. (c).

Schools

A school must release all requested data relevant to a maltreatment report to the Commissioner of Education. If the commissioner determines that maltreatment occurred involving a person who works in the school, the commissioner must report to the employer, school board, and any appropriate licensing entity the determination and what corrective or protective action was taken by the school. In all other cases, the commissioner must inform the school board or employer that a report was received, the subject and date of the report, the type of maltreatment alleged, the fact that maltreatment was not determined, and a summary of the reasons for the determination. Minn Stat. § 626.556, subds. 10e and 11.

Investigative Data

A local social services agency may release data on an active assessment or investigation to a court services agency if (a) the court services agency has an active case involving the subject of the data and (b) the data are necessary to effectively process the case. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10h.

Child Mortality Review Panel

Police investigative data and data from social service agencies that worked with the family of a child believed to have died from maltreatment must be provided upon request to the Child Mortality Review Panel created pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, section 256.01, subdivision 12.

Child Maltreatment Review Panel

The investigating agency must share nonpublic data with the child maltreatment review panel if the data are pertinent and necessary for a review requested under Minnesota Statutes, section 256.022. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 11.

Citizen Review Panel

Police investigative data and data from social service agencies that worked with the family of a child must be provided upon request to a citizen review panel created pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, section 256.01, subdivision 15.

Appeal

An individual or facility found to have maltreated a child may file an administrative appeal. An individual cannot request an appeal in a family assessment since no determination of maltreatment is made. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10i.

Who may examine the child abuse report record during the assessment or investigation?

The alleged abuser and the parent or custodian of the child can see the case records created by the local social services agency, except the reporter’s name must not be disclosed. They cannot see records held by a law enforcement agency or given to the local social services agency by law enforcement. Anyone performing a child abuse assessment or investigation who intentionally violates this restriction is guilty of a misdemeanor.

The act provides that the record must be kept private or confidential, so with the exceptions for government agency sharing and access by the subjects of the report, no one but the subjects of the report can see the record.

What are the access rules when an investigation becomes inactive?

Law enforcement records identifying the victim remain private (available only to the victim). Those identifying the reporter are confidential (no one may see them), except as provided below.

Local social services agency records, whether or not received from law enforcement, become private (available to the subjects of the record).


This and any related posts have been adopted from the Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department’s Information Brief, Overview of the Maltreatment of Minors Act, written by legislative analyst Lynn Aves.

This is also part of a series of posts on Minnesota’s Maltreatment of Minors Act.


6 Minn. Stat. § 13.82, subds. 7, 8, and 9.

7 The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act provides that, in order to qualify for federal grants, a state must maintain the confidentiality of child abuse records, but may permit sharing by involved government agencies. 42. U.S.C. § 5106a(b).

8 This is permitted by the regulations accompanying the federal law. 45 C.F.R. § 1340.14.