Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Church personnel mandated to report elder, disabled abuse

By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published June 10, 2010

ATLANTA—Church volunteers and employees are encouraged to familiarize themselves with a new state law requiring current mandatory reporters of child abuse to also report suspected abuse of disabled adults and the elderly.

House Bill 78 became law on July 1, 2013 and now includes those with disabilities and the elderly in mandatory reporting of abuse, or neglect.

“This is a Georgia law,” said Jennifer Broel, Safe Environment director for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

The law defines the elderly as those 65 or older, and also applies to any person with disabilities 18 or older.

Broel said that extraordinary ministers of holy Communion bringing the Eucharist to those in nursing homes are a “perfect example” of those impacted by the new law.

Any church volunteer such as these ministers noticing abuse, neglect or exploitation of an elderly or disabled person, whether in or outside of a long-term care facility, is now a mandated reporter of abuse.

The process for reporting the abuse depends on whether it was in a long-term care facility or elsewhere.

To report abuse in a long-term care facility, there are three steps to take when there is reasonable cause to believe abuse has occurred:

• Call the Georgia Department of Community Health (DCH) at 1-888-878-6442 or

• Contact the sheriff or district attorney’s office in the local county.

• Follow with a written report to DCH.

All of these steps should occur within a 24-hour time frame of the suspected abuse.

For reporting of abuse occurring outside of long-term care facilities:

• Call the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) within 24 hours. The DHS Division of Aging Services, Adult Protective Services reporting line is 1-866-55AGING.

• Call the district attorney’s office or sheriff’s department locally within 24 hours.

• File a written report with DHS (but no time frame is specified by law).

In July 2012 a Georgia law defining “child service organization personnel” as mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect took effect. This definition of personnel includes all priests, all deacons, all seminarians, all religious sisters and brothers, all staff, and all volunteers serving within the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Suspected child abuse should be reported to the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) within 24 hours.

A member of the clergy is deemed to be a mandatory reporter under these laws. A priest shall not be required to report abuse reported solely within the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but when a priest receives information on abuse from any other source, the priest shall comply with the reporting requirements.

Anyone with questions about mandatory reporting, or the process for reporting abuse, may call the archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection at 404-920-7550.

“That’s why we’re here,” emphasized Broel.

The contact information for law enforcement agencies and for DFCS is also available at The Safe Environment policies are there also.

The archdiocese also maintains a hotline for reporting abuse at 1-888-437-0764.

Failure to follow these reporting laws is punishable as a criminal misdemeanor.