New Law on Child Abuse Reporting
By Pam Henderson
As another school year begins, a whole new set of “eyes” is on children. Oftentimes, teachers spend more time with our children from Monday through Friday than we get to as parents. As skillful observers, they have witness to a side of our children that we don’t get to see. The classroom, playground and lunchroom can bring out interesting conversations and behaviors amongst children when they’re with their peers.
At the same time, a child’s problems from outside the classroom are likely at some point to surface at school. A teacher may notice a straight “A” student regressing to failing grades, frequently arriving late or unprepared for school, wearing dirty clothing or clothing that is not suitable for the weather or struggling to concentrate due to daily fatigue or hunger. Any of these may have a reasonable explanation – maybe the dog really did eat the homework or the hot mac & cheese really did accidentally scald the arm. Most of us entered adulthood still proudly bearing the battle wounds of a well-played, mischievous and adventurous childhood.
But, what if something more than what meets the eye is going on at home or the neighborhood? A scar happens on knees, but is it common to have one black eye after another? Or to be dressed for a sultry summer day when the snow is falling? Or to be falling asleep at the desk?
When a teacher’s concerns rise beyond suspecting a student’s momentary lapse in forgetting the homework assignment or a parent’s momentary lapse in funding the lunch account, he or she can be lifesaving in protecting the child. Yes, lifesaving because it may be the first effort anyone has ever made to get help for a stressed family. To help teachers be responsive to suspicions of a child being abused or neglected, State Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, co-authored a bill which became law on July 1. It can be found at Indiana Code 31-33-5-2.
Indiana State Teachers Association legal counsel Eric Hylton explained that the new law now requires the school employee to immediately report suspected child abuse or neglect to the Department of Child Services or to a local law enforcement agency, and then notify the principal or the principal’s designee that a report has been made. Mr. Hylton stresses that DCS or law enforcement is contacted before notifying the principal or principal’s designee.
The change emphasizes that “all of us have firsthand responsibilities to protect kids,” said Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association. She added that it’s better to “err on the side of caution” and report rather than “find out later that something horrible happened.”
In La Porte County, 203 cases of child abuse and neglect have been substantiated year-to-date through July. That number is 12% higher than where the County was last year at this time.
In Indiana, any individual who has a reason to believe a child is a victim of abuse or neglect has the duty to make a report; therefore, each citizen of Indiana is considered a “mandated reporter.”
DCS offers these tips when contacting the Hotline (retrieved from https://www.in.gov/dcs/2971.htm):
Intake Specialists will ask you for information about the parties involved (victim, parent(s)/guardian(s), perpetrator) and the specific allegations giving rise to the call. Information you will be asked to provide may include:
1. Child Information: name, age, address, current location, person caring for child, and need/receiving medical treatment
2. Parent/Guardian Information: name, address, phone number as well as any domestic violence, substance abuse, criminal history, mental health issues, or past CPS history
3. Alleged Perpetrator Information: name, address, phone number, relation to the child, behavioral issues, and other children who may be at risk
4. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect allegations: what happened, when, where, timeframe, and specific conditions
DCS urges that even if you are unable to provide all of the information above, to contact the Hotline to make a report if you suspect a child is a victim of abuse or neglect. An Intake Specialist will review the information you are able to provide to determine whether it meets the statutory requirements for DCS to initiate an assessment. Please do not wait for someone else to make the call – your call may be the critical first step in protecting a child.
The toll-free Hotline number in Indiana is 800.800.5556. Keep in mind that a call is confidential and can be made anonymously. Also, a call made in good faith cannot be prosecuted.
Your call can save a life.