Mandatory Reporting Requirements: Children
Tennessee

Last Updated: March 2020
Question Answer

Who is required to report?

  • Note: Tennessee’s mandatory reporting law imposes different reporting requirements depending on the type of abuse. Accordingly, the information presented distinguishes between reporting requirements for crimes of “abuse” and crimes of “sexual abuse” (as respectively defined).
  • Abuse:
    • Any person who has knowledge of or is called upon to render aid to any child who is suffering from, or has sustained, any wound, injury, disability or physical or mental condition.
  • Sexual Abuse: Any person, including, but not limited to, any:
    • Physician, osteopathic physician, medical examiner, chiropractor, nurse or hospital personnel engaged in the admission, examination, care or treatment of persons;
    • Any other health or mental health professional;
    • Practitioner who relies solely on spiritual means for healing;
    • School teacher or other school official or personnel;
    • Judge of any court of the state;
    • Social worker, day care center worker, or other professional child care, foster care, residential or institutional worker;
    • Law enforcement officer;
    • Authority figure at a community facility, including any facility used for recreation or social assemblies for educational, religious, social, health or welfare purposes, including, but not limited to, facilities operated by schools, the boy or girl scouts, the YMCA or YWCA, the boys and girls club or church or religious organizations; or
    • Neighbor, relative, friend or any other person.

When is a report required and where does it go?

When is a report required?

  • Abuse: If the harm is of such a nature as to reasonably indicate that it has been caused by brutality, abuse or neglect or that, on the basis of available information, reasonably appears to have been caused by brutality, abuse or neglect.
  • Sexual Abuse: Knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been sexually abused.

Where does it go?

  • Abuse:
    • Judge having juvenile jurisdiction over the child;
    • the department of children’s services, in a manner specified by the department, either by contacting a local representative of the department or by utilizing the department’s centralized intake procedure, where applicable;
    •  sheriff of the county where the child resides; or
    • chief law enforcement official of the municipality where the child resides.
  • Any person required to report or investigate cases of suspected child abuse or child sexual abuse who has reasonable cause to suspect that a child died as a result of child abuse or child sexual abuse shall report such suspicion to the appropriate medical examiner. The medical examiner must accept the report for investigation and report the medical examiner’s findings, in writing, to the local law enforcement agency, appropriate district attorney general and the Department of Children’s Services.
  • Any school official, personnel, employee or member of the board of education who is aware of a report or investigation of employee misconduct on the part of any employee of the school system that in any way involves known or alleged child abuse, including, but not limited to, child physical or sexual abuse or neglect, shall, immediately upon knowledge of such information, notify the department of children’s services (or anyone listed above under the heading “Where does it go?”) of the abuse or alleged abuse.
  • Sexual Abuse: The local office of the department of children’s services or to the judge having juvenile jurisdiction or to the office of the sheriff or the chief law enforcement official of the municipality where the child resides. Each report of known or suspected child sexual abuse occurring in a facility licensed by the department of mental health and substance abuse services, or any hospital, shall also be made to the local law enforcement agency in the jurisdiction where such offense occurred.

What definitions are important to know?

  • “Child” means a person who is under 18 years of age or who is reasonably presumed to be under 18 years of age.
  • “Child sexual abuse” means:
    • the commission of any act involving the unlawful sexual abuse, molestation, fondling or carnal knowledge of a child under 13 years of age that prior to November 1, 1989, constituted the criminal offense of: 
      • aggravated rape;
      • aggravated sexual battery;
      • assault with intent to commit rape or attempt to commit rape or sexual battery;
      • begetting child on wife’s sister;
      • crimes against nature;
      • incest;
      • promotion of performance including sexual conduct by minor;
      • rape;
      • sexual battery; or
      • use of minor for obscene purposes; or
    • on or after November 1, 1989, constituted the criminal offense of:
      • aggravated rape;
      • aggravated sexual battery;
      • aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor;
      • criminal attempt for any of the offenses above;
      • especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor;
      • incest;
      • rape;
      • sexual battery; or
      • sexual exploitation of a minor; or
    • one or more of the following acts:
      • any penetration, however slight, of the vagina or anal opening of 1 person by the penis of another person, whether or not there is the emission of semen;
      • any contact between the genitals or anal opening of one person and the mouth or tongue of another person;
      • any intrusion by 1 person into the genitals or anal opening of another person, including the use of any object for this purpose, except that it shall not include acts intended for a valid medical purpose;
      • the intentional touching of the genitals or intimate parts, including the breasts, genital area, groin, inner thighs, and buttocks, or the clothing covering them, of either the child or the perpetrator, except that it shall not include: (a) acts that may reasonably be construed to be normal caretaker responsibilities, interactions with, or affection for a child; or (b) acts intended for a valid medical purpose;
      • the intentional exposure of the perpetrator’s genitals in the presence of a child, or any other sexual act intentionally perpetrated in the presence of a child, if such exposure or sexual act is for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification, aggression, degradation, or other similar purpose;
      • the sexual exploitation of a child, which includes allowing, encouraging, or forcing a child to (a) solicit for or engage in prostitution; or (b) engage in actual or simulated sexual activity;
      • trafficking of a child for a commercial sex act; or
      • the commission of any act specified above against a child 13 years of age through 17 years of age if such act is committed against the child by a parent, guardian, relative, person residing in the child’s home, or other person responsible for the care and custody of the child.
  • Institutional child sexual abuse” means situations of known or suspected child sexual abuse in which the person allegedly perpetrating the child sexual abuse is an employee of a public or private child care agency, public or private school, or any other person responsible for the child's care.

What timing and procedural requirements apply to reports?

  • Reports must be made immediately. Reports may be made via telephone or otherwise, on the Department of Children’s Services Central Intake Division hotline at 1-877-237-0004 (1-877-54ABUSE) or online (at: https://apps.tn.gov/carat/referral/emergency.html).

What information must a report include?

To the extent known by the reporter:

  • The name, address, telephone number and age of the child;
  • The name, address and telephone number of the person responsible for the care of the child;
  • Facts requiring the report; and
  • Any other pertinent information.

Anything else I should know?

  • Except as otherwise provided by this section and §§ 37-1-612 and 37-5-107, reports of harm made under this part and the identity of the reporter are confidential, except when the juvenile court in which the investigation report is filed, in its discretion, determines the testimony of the person reporting to be material to an indictment or conviction.
  • Except as may be ordered by the juvenile court as herein provided, the name of any person reporting child abuse shall not be released to any person, other than employees of the department or other child protection team members responsible for child protective services, the abuse registry, or the appropriate district attorney general upon subpoena of the Tennessee bureau of investigation, without the written consent of the person reporting. Such person's identity shall be irrelevant to any civil proceeding and shall, therefore, not be subject to disclosure by order of any court. This shall not prohibit the subpoenaing of a person reporting child abuse when deemed necessary by the district attorney general or the department to protect a child who is the subject of a report; provided, that the fact that such person made the report is not disclosed.
  • Knowing failure to make a required report is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by not greater than 11 months, 29 days imprisonment or a fine not to exceed $2,500, or both. A second or subsequent violation is a Class E felony.
  • A person who intentionally fails to make a required report commits a Class E felony
  • Any person who knowingly and willfully makes public or discloses any confidential information contained in the abuse registry or in the records of any child sexual abuse case, except as provided in this part, commits a Class A misdemeanor.
  • Any person who either verbally or by written or printed communication knowingly and maliciously reports, or causes, encourages, aids, counsels or procures another to report, a false accusation of child sexual abuse or false accusation that a child has sustained any wound, injury, disability or physical or mental condition caused by brutality, abuse or neglect commits a Class E felony,
  • The duty to report continues as long as the alleged victim of abuse is, or is reasonably presumed to be, a child under 18. Tenn. Op. Atty. Gen. No. 88-142.
  • If a law enforcement official or judge becomes aware of known or suspected child abuse, through personal knowledge, receipt of a report, or otherwise, such information shall be reported to the department immediately upon the receipt of such information, and, where appropriate, the child protective team shall be notified to investigate the report for the protection of the child in accordance with this part. Further criminal investigation by such official shall be appropriately conducted in coordination with the team or department to the maximum extent possible.
  • Every physician or other person who makes a diagnosis of, or treats, or prescribes for any sexually transmitted disease (set out in § 68-10-112), or venereal herpes and chlamydia, in children 13 years of age or younger, and every superintendent or manager of a clinic, dispensary or charitable or penal institution, in which there is a case of any of the diseases, in children 13 years of age or younger shall report the case immediately, in writing on a form supplied by the department of health to that department.
  • Every physician or other person who makes an initial diagnosis of pregnancy to an unemancipated minor, and every superintendent or manager of a clinic, dispensary or charitable or penal institution in which there is a case of an unemancipated minor who is determined to be pregnant, shall provide to the minor’s parent, if the parent is present, and the minor consents, any readily available written information on how to report to the department of children’s services an occurrence of sex abuse that may have resulted in the minor’s pregnancy, unless disclosure to the parent would violate the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).
  • If a school teacher, school official or any other school personnel has knowledge or reasonable cause to suspect that a child who attends the school may be a victim of child abuse or child sexual abuse sufficient to require reporting the school shall immediately notify the school child abuse coordinator and report the information to the department and law enforcement.
    •  “School” means any public or privately operated child care agency as defined in § 71-3-501, child care program, as defined in § 49-1-1102.preschool, nursery school, kindergarten, elementary school or secondary school.
  • If any hospital, clinic, school, or other organization responsible for the care of children develops a procedure for internally tracking, reporting, or otherwise monitoring a report pursuant to this section, the identity of the person who made a report of harm shall be kept confidential.
  • If a health care provider makes a report of harm, and if the report arises from an examination of the child performed by the health care provider in the course of rendering professional care or treatment of the child, OR if the health care provider who is highly qualified by experience in the field of child abuse and neglect, as evidenced by special training or credentialing, renders a second opinion at the request of the department or any law enforcement agency, whether or not the health care provider has examined the child, rendered care or treatment, or made the report of harm, THEN the health care provider shall not be liable in any civil or criminal action that is based solely upon: (A) the health care provider’s decision to report what the provider believed to be harm; (B) the health care provider’s belief that reporting the harm was required by law; (C) the fact that a report of harm was made; or (D) the fact that an opinion was requested and provided. If absolute immunity is not conferred based on the provisions described above applicable to a health care provider, and if, acting in good faith, the person makes a report of harm as required, then the person shall not be liable in any civil or criminal action that is based solely upon: (i) the person’s decision to report what the person believed to be harm; (ii) the person’s belief that reporting the harm was required by law; or (iii) the fact that a report of harm was made. No such immunity shall attach if the person reporting the harm perpetrated or inflicted the abuse or caused the neglect.
    • "health care provider” means any physician, osteopathic physician, medical examiner, chiropractor, nurse, hospital personnel, mental health professional or other health care professional.

Statutory citation(s):

  • T.C.A. §§ 37-1-401, 37-1-403, 37-1-409, 37-1-410, 37-1-412, 37-1-413, 37-1-602, 37-1-605, 39-13-309, 40-35-111.



DNA evidence can increase likelihood of holding a perpetrator accountable.

Read More

Sexual violence has fallen by half in the last 20 years.

More Stats

The National Sexual Assault Hotline will always be free — with your help.

Donate Now