December 03, 2007

How changes in reporting child abuse affect you

Source: New York Teacher

UPDATE JAN. 3, 2008: NYSUT Information Bulletin #200713 Child Abuse Mandatory Reporting Requirements for School Employees is now available as a comprehensive resource on recent changes to state law.


When you suspect a child is being abused outside the educational setting, the wisest course has always been to report your concerns directly to the child abuse hotline. Now that's not just the most prudent response for teachers and other "mandated reporters," it's required by law.

Mandated reporters of child abuse now must directly report their suspicions to the Statewide Central Register for Child Abuse and Maltreatment, rather than rely on the school principal or supervisor.

This change in Social Services state law, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Stephen Saland, clarifies murky requirements that had been subject to varying interpretations.

The new law, which went into effect in October, also clarifies that "school officials" who are mandated reporters include teachers, guidance counselors, psychologists, social workers, school nurses, administrators and other school personnel required to hold a teaching or administrative license or certificate. Previously,  "school officials" were defined as mandated reporters but the law did not specify what employees that included.

The mandatory reporting also applies to a wide range of staff in residential and non-residential programs for children, private schools and others.

The new law also makes it clear that school districts and other educational or health care employers cannot take retaliatory action against an employee who makes a child abuse report. A principal or supervisor cannot demand that prior approval is necessary before a report of suspected child abuse or maltreatment is filed.

Different reporting requirements apply to suspected child abuse in an educational setting.

NYSUT has always advised members to "err on the side of caution"  in reporting suspicions of child abuse. As a June article in New York Teacher documented, policies for reporting child abuse have varied from district to district - and in some cases may have jeopardized speedy reporting. NYSUT analysts noted then that the confusing and sometimes contradictory requirements also jeopardized educators if their reports to a supervisor went unheeded.

"The new reporting requirements clearly streamline a process that may have slowed reporting of suspected child abuse," noted Steve Allinger, NYSUT legislative director. "At the same time, they provide helpful clarification on who is required to report and how it should be done."

"This will assure that reports do not fall through the cracks," said Saland, a  Poughkeepsie Republican. The new reporting process avoids problems associated with getting a report second- or even third-hand, he added.

Anyone who is mandated to report suspected child abuse or maltreatment - and fails to do so - could be charged with a class A misdemeanor and sued in civil court for monetary damages, so "it's essential for everyone who cares for children to be aware of the law," Allinger said.  Mandated reporters who make a report in good faith continue to be protected from any criminal or civil liability.

Further information and a guide for mandated reporters is available at http://www.ocfs.state.ny.us/

NYSUT Information Bulletin #200713 Child Abuse Mandatory Reporting Requirements for School Employees is also available as a comprehensive resource on recent changes to state law.

- Sylvia Saunders