Showing 30 posts in Mandated Reporter.
Minnesota Public Radio recently had an excellent report on the problems of homeless youth. One aspect that struck me was the unintentional consequences of mandated reporter policies:
One vexing question in the mandated reporter area is when to report children who appear to have no adults supervising them. It is more difficult than most situations of abuse or neglect because there is a growing body of research that children need unsupervised time to develop into psychologically healthy adults.
From Connecticut comes this story of a former high school teacher charged with failing to make a mandated report of child sexual abuse two years ago. According to the warrant, a student told him that she had been forced into sex at a party in 2016, but he failed to relay the report to any authorities. His explanation to the investigating officer was that the girl’s report “was vague.”
Organizations that work with teenagers face questions of sexual behavior in several different situations. The most common issues that I see are (1) “sexting,” or sending sexually explicit photos to each other, (2) horseplay that turns sexual, and (3) consensual sex. Whether these require a report to authorities or only an internal response depends on several different circumstances.
I have heard many cautious lawyers and more than one self-proclaimed expert claim that elementary school teachers and child care workers should never touch their students. These “no-touch” policies have gone so far as to prevent kids from hugging one another on campuses, and even made adults afraid to help kids apply sunscreen or band-aids for fear that they could be accused of inappropriate touching. These policies actually harm children, because they ignore the fact that appropriate human touch is a healthy and necessary part of growth and development.
One question that I often hear from child care centers is how to respond to sexual play between children. As usual, the question is “it depends.” Some types of sexual play are normal and developmentally appropriate, and warrant nothing more than redirection and teaching about social norms. Other types can be signals of sexual abuse and require more formal intervention. We don’t want to miss signals of abuse, but neither do we want to overreact to normal child development.
The beginning of a new year is always a good time to review and strengthen internal policies. This is particularly true of child protection policies, where a few simple precautions can yield important benefits. Best practices in the industry include such policies, and many insurance companies require them. This series of posts outlines some principles that I recommend to my clients.
What Is a Child Protection Policy?
The main purpose of child protection policies is to protect children from harm while in your program, whether from staff or other children.
Although reporting suspected child abuse is a legal and moral duty, it is not without risk. In Kansas, a parent has sued a Catholic school for reporting suspicions that a child was being abused. The suit claims that the school made the report in retaliation for the mother's complaints that her daughter was being bullied at school.
There is no way to know whether the allegations are accurate, but they are similar to this case from Connecticut, where parents sued a school for what they claimed was leading questioning, leading to a report to child protection authorities. The state investigators determined that the report was unfounded, but the parents alleged various damages from the investigation process. The Connecticut court dismissed most of the claims, but allowed a single claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress to proceed.
I have not been able to determine how the Connecticut case ended, but this is one situation where the process is the punishment. Given the state-imposed and moral obligations to report suspected abuse, there is no way to completely avoid these sort of lawsuits. The only protection I have found is to have very good liability insurance to cover the costs of defending a decision to report.
The Georgia legislature has made some small but important changes to the state's mandated reporter law. Effective July 1, 2015, mandated reporters (that list is unchanged) must report when they have "reasonable cause to believe that suspected child abuse has occurred." The old standard was reasonable cause to believe that a child has been abused. The addition of "suspected" lowers the threshold for what you must report. In other words, adults caring for children must report incidents not only when they think abuse has occurred, but when they suspect that child abuse may have occurred.
The amended statute also includes a section clarifying that someone working within a medical or child-caring institution may report suspected abuse to a supervisor or designated contact person. Anyone following that procedure "shall be deemed to have fully complied" with the statute.
The supervisor or designated contact person then has the obligation to report the suspected abuse to child services. That person cannot "exercise any control or restraint or modification or make any other change" to the initial information, but they can provide "any additional, relevant and necessary" information.
A story that has been getting a lot of notice lately is this one about a police investigation into a classroom kiss between two seven-year-olds. Most commenters are blaming the school system, but Florida’s mandatory reporting laws appear to be the biggest reason for the overreaction.
- Staff Training
- Child Protection Policies
- Protection Policies
- Speaking Engagement
- Risk Avoidance
- Child Abuse
- Criminal Law
- Mental Health Research
- Public Policy
- Employment Issues
- Zero Tolerance
- Child Witness
- Expert Witness
- Litigation (Discovery)
- Mandated Reporter
- Day Care
- Personal Injury
- Youth Camps