This week, our FREE Law and Ethics practice question touches on the subject of reporting child abuse and neglect. This is an important topic that will very likely appear on your social work or MFT Law and Ethics exam. Since it could be tested in a variety of ways, you can never have too many practice opportunities (this is not our first practice question blog on this subject). Navigating the legal and ethical issues that arise with minors can be tricky; but rest assured, our exam prep programs fully prepare you to tackle any questions on this subject that you may encounter.
One difficult category that falls under the umbrella of child abuse is sex with minors. It can be challenging to know when to report, when to maintain confidentiality, when to involve parents, or when to honor a minor client’s self-determination.
What do you need to know about sex between minors?
- Nonconsensual sex with a minor is always reported. Forget the ages; they are irrelevant in this case.
- Consensual sex is not considered a mandated report if:
- Both minors are under the age of 14 and of similar ages and developmental levels (and actually capable of consenting)
- Both partners are between the ages of 14 and 20 years
- One partner is 21 or older and the other is at least 16 years of age.
- Therapists must assess if they have reason to believe a minor is at risk of child abuse.
Are you prepared to tackle legal or ethical questions regarding sex between minors? Let’s take a look at this week’s practice question to find out!
Child Abuse and Neglect Practice Question:
Charlotte, a 13-year-old girl, initiates therapy at a community mental health agency. The girl informs the therapist that her parents are unaware she is seeking therapy and would not approve if they knew. She also tells the therapist that she is pregnant, but hasn’t told the father yet and is not sure if she should. When asked by the therapist about the father, the client appears nervous and begins to cry. Which actions should the therapist take to manage the legal and ethical issues presented in this case?
A. Inform Charlotte that her parents must be informed and file a child abuse report due to reasonable suspicion of sexual abuse.
B. Discuss the pros and cons of Charlotte’s parents being involved in treatment and file a child abuse report due to reasonable suspicion of sexual abuse.
C. Provide Charlotte with a medical referral and assess for potential sexual abuse.
D. Identify support systems available to Charlotte and assess for potential sexual abuse.
The correct answer is C.
Answer A is incorrect for two reasons.
First, we are not required to inform the parents that Charlotte is pregnant. The question stem states that Charlotte is 13-years-old, which means she is old enough to consent to her own treatment and she has a right to confidentiality.
Second, we do not have knowledge or reasonable suspicion of child abuse. All we know is Charlotte is pregnant. We do not know the age of the partner nor do we see any clear indication sex was nonconsensual. You might be thinking, “but she is nervous and crying.” That, in and of itself, does not point to abuse. She could be crying because the thought of being 13-years-old and pregnant is overwhelming.
Answer B can also be eliminated because, as noted in answer A, we do not have enough information to warrant a report.
We’ve narrowed the answers down to C and D. Since the second part of both answers is the same, we are going to focus on the first part of each answer. You are choosing between identifying support systems and a medical referral.
Answer D is not as strong as C. Charlotte has a clear medical issue, so providing a referral would be our priority. Identifying support systems could be done in the future, but medical attention should be the immediate focus.
Which answer did you choose? Does the rationale fit with your understanding of the topic and how you would apply it in a clinical setting? Or did you learn something new with this scenario? If you have any further questions feel free to check in with a TDC coach. We are here to support you all along the way. And if you came up with the same answer-great job! You are on the right track to getting licensed.
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Thanks. My answer was correct. I am so grateful to find your program. I take the exam tomorrow after numerous tries. I have never been more confident since I started on this journey of becoming a LCSW. I really appreciate your this website. I will advise anybody to study this program. I feel confident today that I will pass the exam .
Where do we find information regarding if a child is old enough to consent to her own treatment and she has a right to confidentiality without her parents knowing?
Hi, I also want to know how or where do I get info in when a person/child is old enough to consent or make their own decisions? Thanks
Wow this was a new one for me and I am asking the same question as C.H. I thought all under 18 children must have parental involvement is such cases.
I'm with the others. I didn't realize that someone who was 13 could give consent to have sex. I did some research and most states have 18 as the age of consent, some say 16 but none says 13. Also, the statement says "Charlotte is 13-years-old, which means she is old enough to consent to her own treatment and she has a right to confidentiality" so who's paying the bill? No 13yr old is employed or insured and won't have the funds to cover the cost of therapy at a community mental health agency, unless its free.....so much to assume here. On the TEST I would have picked A. I need help to understand this one.
I didn't see an answer yet and I have similar question as to those proposed above. Is there a clear answer why the 13 year old can have complete confidentiality here and what rule or laws govern that. Is this a state-by-state issue? Look forward to the clarification here. I am practicing here in California
I chose "D" as I thought at some point the child's parents/guardian would need to be notified to give consent for treatment and giving a referral would be premature to this.
If both partners are between 14 and 20 and sex is consensual, we don’t report that? Don’t a police report need to be made?
Example: a 15 yr old and 20yr old consensual to sex
In California you have the right to your own decisions about medical care/treatment and have the right to confidentiality as a teenager. The doctor/clinician doesn’t have to tell your parents anything. It’s bizarre to me as a parent but it’s the law.
As to the question about the 15 and 20 year old, the key word is between. 20 isn’t between 15 and 20 and I believe a report would be made. If it were say a 15 and 19 year old (then both ages are between 14-20).
Hope that helps.
I was reading one of the older blogs from August of 2018 and a 13 year old is pregnant and the rationale stated that she is old enough to give her own consent so her parents do not have to know. She went in for therapy by herself. So from what age can a child give their own informed consent. This is so confusing.
In California, minors may consent to their own treatment if the following three criteria are met:
1. They are 12 or older
2. They are mature enough to intelligently participate in treatment, and
3. It would be inappropriate to include parents in treatment.
If all these criteria are met, the minor may consent to their own treatment. Laws are different across states, so if you reside somewhere other than CA, you would need to check your state's law regarding minor consent.