Mandated reporting: What even is it?

It’s the law

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Mandated reporting: What even is it?

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Mandated reporting is the law.

Penal Code Section 11166 states that individuals who work with minors must report any instances of abuse, which can come in many forms, to the correct authorities. In some cases, this may be to Child Protective Services, while in others it may be more appropriate to contact the police directly.

The California Department of Education essentially defines a mandatory reporter as any adult with authority who deals with minors, from an administrator to a clergyman.

Economics, World History and AP Psychology teacher D.J. Cook described situations that would require mandated reporting.

“The things in the category of mandatory reporting are, if there’s clearly some sign of abuse that’s going on at the home: physical abuse, sexual abuse, mental abuse, anything like that,” Cook said. “If a student mentions that they’re going to harm themselves or someone else, if a student has mentioned that they know somebody who has been harmed by somebody else and that wasn’t reported and another case would be if an adult has harmed a minor and somebody brings that to your attention. These are all under the context of mandatory reporting.”

According to Social Worker Degree Guide, a mandated reporter is “a person who, because of his or her profession, is legally required to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to the relevant authorities.” For example, all individuals who work on a school campus are mandated reporters.

According to the California Department of Education, “all persons who are mandated reporters are required, by law, to report all known or suspected cases of child abuse or neglect. It is not the job of the mandated reporter to determine whether the allegations are valid. If child abuse or neglect is reasonably suspected or if a pupil shares information with a mandated reporter leading him/her to believe abuse or neglect has taken place, the report must be made.”According to Social Worker Degree Guide, a mandated reporter is “a person who, because of his or her profession, is legally required to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to the relevant authorities.” For example, all individuals who work on a school campus are mandated reporters.

Principal Kevin Buchanan said that mandatory reporting is like the Sandy Hook promise of recognizing signs associated with gun violence: “If you see something, say something.” This puts the responsibility of reporting not just on the shoulders of staff, administrators and teachers, but on students and parents as well.

In addition to this being a legal matter, there is a section of Oak Park Unified School District Board Policy that supports mandated reporting.

Board Policy 4000 states, “The district’s personnel policies and related regulations shall be designed to ensure a supportive, positive climate and shall be consistent with collective bargaining agreements and in conformance with state and federal law and regulations.”OPHS works with John Chiaramonte, Senior Deputy with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department. He provides patrol services to Oak Park and schools within the area.

“Over my career, I have investigated several cases of abuse which had been originally reported by a mandated reporter such as school administrators or teachers,” Chiaramonte wrote to the Talon. “Mandated reporting is a great thing in my opinion. It ensures people will alert authorities to possible abuse, rather than people ignoring the situation or ‘turning the other cheek’ because they do not want to get involved. I have no doubt the creation of mandated reporting has saved many lives.”

Counselor and Safe School Ambassadors adviser Randy McLelland mentioned that the people who report the abuse are kept confidential because “the last thing you want is to make the report and then have an angry parent at your door saying, ‘you got me in trouble with law enforcement.’”

In addition to informing an agency, any mandated reporter must fill out a form – the Child Abuse Investigation Report Form SS-8583 – for investigative usage.

As a mandated reporter, it’s important to get all the information necessary for the form – such as the child’s full name and city in which they live – to ensure that they are sending the report to the right people and the right county. If a student is currently sitting in a classroom in Oak Park, that does not necessarily mean that the report should go to Ventura County. For instance, if they are an out-of-district student and live in Woodland Hills, the mandated reporter must contact Los Angeles County to file this incident.

While mandated reporting is a legal responsibility for all school staff to abide by, there is a gray area when the student is 18 years old. Since that person is not a child, Child Protective Services would not be able to take action. However, there is still a moral obligation to report the abuse to the police, according to McLelland.

“Clearly, we have a trust that has been given to us to look out for these minors and make sure that they are not only educated, but they are being safe and appropriately nurtured physically, emotionally, and if that’s not happening we are obligated to report it so they can be verified as safe,” McLelland said. “If you don’t feel that obligation to look out for the welfare of children, then you shouldn’t work in a school setting.”

Stew McGugan, Director of Student Support and School Safety, mentioned that the most common case for mandated reporting at OPHS is self-abuse. This can come in forms such as suicidal ideation, self-harm, etc.

“Sometimes in mandated reporting situations, the students think that it’s going to make the situation worse,” McGugan said. “They can’t see through the fog of what’s going on, and when we report this out to people to help them or to help others who are doing the abuse, that’s sometimes hard for students to see, and they get frustrated. But it’s really for the benefit of them in the long run.”

A teacher’s job is contingent on complying with mandated reporting laws. This applies to all other school employees as well.

“Let’s say a teacher or any staff member does not report it. They can possibly lose their credential. They can possibly lose their job. It can be a civil lawsuit. It can be a misdemeanor. It can be all sorts of things if they don’t report it. It’s not a moral/ethical thing, it’s the law,” McGugan said.

Cook explained that the importance behind mandated reporting is “one of the very first lessons you learn as a teacher.”

“You’re always trying to listen for everything, whether the students know you’re actively listening or not,” Cook said. “Students are very candid when talking to their friends and talking to each other, so if I were to overhear a conversation in which something was said, where somebody says they’ve been harming themselves, they’ve been cutting, they’ve been doing something intentionally to their bodies, in that context at that point, you really do have to say something.”

Cook’s first experience with mandated reporting was when he worked in East Los Angeles. One of his students – he did not say the name of the student to protect his anonymity – showed up to class with a swollen, black eye.

“He said, ‘Well my brother got out of jail yesterday, and he got drunk and blamed me for going to jail, so he punched me in the face and then the cops had to be called again.’ One day into his being out of jail he was already arrested again, going back to jail,” Cook said. “Here’s how serious mandatory reporting is. I still had to make sure that I called the proper places to report that black eye that that student received, and that led to a series of events in which that family was actually looking for me after school because I’m now a narc to that family and they wanted to do serious bodily harm to me for doing my job.”

School Psychologist Stephanie Walker-Sean wrote to the Talon that she thought it was imperative for everyone to know the signs of abuse. On the California Department of Education website, there are lists of warning signs for emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse and signs of neglect.Walker-Sean wrote that mandated reporting is important because minors may not always have the ability to speak up.

“I have noticed that we are fortunate to have such incredibly supportive and caring administrators and counselors,” Walker-Sean wrote. “We as a team do what is needed to ensure children’s safety, regardless of what time of day it is or what day of the week it is. And even after the day is over and we go home, we carry that child in our hearts and thoughts, and continue to work to ensure everything is done to help that child in any way we can. So what I have noticed is the heart of Oak Park, our children, are truly cared about.”