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.
Still haven’t signed up for an exam preparation program? Or have you already passed the exam and need to complete your continuing education requirements? Our structured, straightforward approach will provide you with exactly what you need!