Mandated reporters help ensure the safety and well-being of children during COVID-19

23 Jun
0
public school building

While learning loss has been at the forefront of concerns about the impacts of school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the shuttering of schools across the country poses additional risks for children who may experience abuse and neglect in their households. The economic crisis has brought financial stress to millions of families that have lost income and are experiencing food and housing insecurity. Coupled with more time at home due to shelter-in-place orders, these factors make abuse and neglect a top concern for children’s well-being.

Experts worry about increased rates of child abuse at a time when mandatory reporters such as doctors, teachers and nurses have fewer interactions with children. Even while teachers and schools conduct teaching and learning remotely, they must be alert to students who may be facing child abuse and neglect at home. Since March, when California’s shelter-in-place order took effect, police and sheriff’s departments have noted a sharp decrease in the number of reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. Los Angeles County typically receives nearly 1,000 calls a day of suspected abuse but has seen a 50 percent drop in daily reports since schools have been closed.

“Child welfare agencies rely on mandated reporters to identify suspected child abuse and neglect,” said Michelle Callejas, director of the Sacramento County Department of Child, Family and Adult Services. “Right now, more than ever, we need our teachers, counselors, principals and other mandated reporters who are checking in on children virtually to ask additional questions about how they are all coping with stress related to COVID-19 and whether they are in need of any services or supports.”

Board members should ensure that district staff are aware of their continued responsibility as mandated reporters during remote working conditions and are trained to recognize signs of abuse and neglect of children. Looking for signs of abuse and neglect remotely may be different than in-person indicators. Educators should check in regularly with students and/or caregivers. When doing so, they can ask:

  • How are things going for you at home?
  • Are you worried about anything? Who do you feel safe talking to about your needs or worries? Do you have a way to talk to that person right now?
  • What do you like most about staying at home? What do you like least? Why?
  • District staff should also be aware of signs of concern, which may include:
    • Not having contact at all with a family after many repeated phone calls/messages.
    • A student with technology/internet access has not attended virtual classes or has not completed homework in a long time.
    • Communications from a child that they feel unsafe, or observation of a student in a dangerous environment.
    • A significant change in a student’s mood or behavior.

School officials should make an extra effort with students who have a history of emotional, sexual or physical abuse or neglect; drug use; who have discussed or attempted suicide; are responsible for the care of other children or live in a highly stressful family situation with limited support systems; or require assistance due to physical, mental, behavioral or medical disabilities or delays.

Staff should connect families to additional support when needed. However, if staff suspects a student is unsafe, they must report the situation to local law enforcement. Mandated reporters do not need proof and are not allowed to investigate allegations of abuse. Mandated reporters are responsible for asking for a professional to help a child. If something does not look safe, sound safe or feel safe, it is best to report it.

To ensure that districts are following appropriate reporting procedures for child abuse and neglect, districts are encouraged to review CSBA’s sample Board Policy and Administrative Regulation 5141.4 – Child Abuse Prevention and Reporting.

Resources:

San Diego County, Kids Need Schools to Continue Reporting Abuse During COVID-19 Crisis: https://bit.ly/2X5ZxzK

California Department of Education, Safe Schools: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/ss/ap

California Attorney General’s Office, Suspected Child Abuse Report Form: https://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/childabuse/ss_8572.pdf.

Comments are closed.