This past legislative session introduced a small change to the child abuse and neglect mandatory reporting requirements that will effect all public education employees. Because this change comes so quickly on the heels of the much larger change to abuse and neglect reporting requirements that went into effect last year, I wanted to take a little time and do a combination introduction / refresher of reporting duties. We’ll go through the two separate reporting requirements in Missouri (you did know there were two requirements right??), talk about what some signs of abuse and neglect might be, and analyze what impact the change will have.
Hit the jump to stay updated…
The new change to abuse and neglect reporting laws comes from House Bill 505 and requires that all reports of suspected abuse or neglect go directly to Children’s Division (the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline number is 1-800-392-3738, write that number down and keep it close).
To understand this change, let’s look at the traditional reporting requirement (we’ll get to the newer requirement in a bit). Traditionally, if an individual had a reasonable cause to suspsect that child abuse or neglect had occurred, they had to make a “report.” This report could either go directly to Children’s Division or to a designated individual within the school district, who then could decide whether a report to Children’s Division was necessary. That is no longer an option. District’s can still require a report to an individual within the district but the statute is clear that such a report no longer qualifies as a “mandatory report.” Therefore, all school employees should be sure that they are making their own report to Children’s Division whenever they have a reasonable suspicion of abuse or neglect. Additionally, when you make the hotline call, you will be given a case number and you should record that number and save it in case there are any questions later.
Determining what sort of evidence indicates abuse or neglect can be tricky. Both abuse and neglect are defined in statute, but those definitions do not provide more than basic guidance:
- Abuse is “any physical injury, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse inflicted on a child other than by accidental means by those responsible for the child’s care, custody, and control.”
- Neglect is “failure to provide, by those responsible for the care, custody, and control of the child, the proper or necessary support, education as required by law, nutrition or medical, surgical, or any other care necessary for the child’s well-being.”
Some of the signs of abuse or neglect can be obvious such as unexplained bruises, particularly bruises that wrap the arm or leg, burns, cuts, sudden changes in behavior, or reticence or fear of parents or other caregivers. However, because many of the signs can be subtle, Missouri NEA invites experts to discuss recognizing abuse and neglect every year to provide webinars during Legal Week, which is schedule for September 23-26 this year. If you just can’t wait, a recording of the webinar from the last Legal Week is currently available on the members-only portion of mnea.org by clicking on “Online Learning and Webinars” from the red menu on the left.
The newer, and more technical, reporting requirement (subsection 11) actually is not affected by House Bill 505 because it already required a report to Children’s Division. This requirement has four elements that must be met to trigger a report:
- If a student reports,
- Alleged sexual misconduct,
- On the part of a school employee,
- To a mandatory reporter.
Should the elements be met, the individual must report both to Children’s Division and the Superintendent, within 24 hours. Keep in mind that this requirement strips all professional or personal judgment out of the decision whether or not to report. If a student report meets all four requirements then it must be reported to Children’s Division even if you know it is fabricated. Additionally, there are no exceptions to the 24 hour reporting requirement, so even if you receive the report at 10PM on Christmas Eve, your Superintendent must be notified within 24 hours.
Remember that because there are two separate reporting requirements, there are going to be situations that may meet one but not the other. So long as even one of the requirements is met, the mandatory reporting requirement is triggered.