Mandated Reporter Definition
As a school-based speech pathologist, I am a mandated reporter. Teachers, school social workers, and other school personnel are mandated reporters as well as physicians, nurses, police, and child care providers. Being a mandated reporter means that if I witness abuse or neglect of a student or if a student confesses abuse or neglect to me, by law I have to call the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in the state of Illinois (the name of the department varies by state — I’ve seen it called “Child Protective Services”).
The critical piece is that I have to make the call. The agency determines if it is founded or unfounded, if DCFS needs to visit the home, or if the child needs to be removed from the home. The mandated reporter describes the nature of the abuse or neglect so that I can say I’ve done my “due diligence” on the part of the child. If I decide not to report something that concerned me, then I could be liable if something happened to the child in their home.
I’ve had to make numerous DCFS calls over the course of my career. I will not break confidentiality in this post, but I want to share what the process is like for a mandated reporter and what I’ve learned generally qualifies as abuse.
1. You must give your name and where you work
Whenever you report abuse, the case workers take your information and write it down. At first I was worried, but it makes sense. They keep track of who called and they do note it and start a file. They will not disclose your information with the family.
2. The age of the student and location of the injury are important
After you describe the abuse or neglect, the case worker will tell you whether or not they will open an investigation. The age of the child and the location of the injury is important. For example, a young with an head or neck injury to the head or neck is very concerning.
3. You may or may not have a meeting with an investigator at school
In one case an investigator came to the school and met with me to talk about what the student told me. In another case, DCFS did not come to the school, but went to the family’s home that evening. The next day they called me and told me about their findings.
4. Loop in the teacher and other school personnel prior to the call
When a student confesses abuse to you, it’s important to keep the teacher aware of what the student said and I’ve also found that the school social worker is helpful. Depending on the severity, it might be a good idea to discuss it with the assistant principal or principal as an investigator may visit the school. However, there might be pushback from school personnel. One time a teacher was upset that I called DCFS. She said, “you only just made that’s student’s life harder.” That was a gut punch, but I reminded the teacher that by law I needed to make that call (and the hope was that it might help the student in the end).
5. The process is emotional and nerve-wracking
We work to build rapport with students and then when they divulge abuse or neglect, it’s heart-wrenching. I’ve cried about my students and their circumstances. Calling the line is emotionally taxing and so is waiting to hear what DCFS decides to do. Be prepared for several sleepless nights.
Most employers provide training about being a mandated reporter, but I hope this gives you a little more information about what it’s like. Did I miss anything?