Lesson 3 - Legal and Ethical Issues

In establishing thresholds for “reasonable suspicion”, it is important to remember that verbal disclosures of abuse surpass reporting thresholds and should always be reported. When suspicions arise based on behavioral concerns or other more subtle cues, school personnel are ethically obligated to explore their concerns in order to determine whether a report is warranted. However, it is important that school personnel work within the scope of their training and expertise. Teamwork within the school environment can be very helpful, and consultation with the school nurse, counselor, social worker or psychologist is recommended in helping to determine next steps. Remember that investigating concerns of abuse (for example, conducting interviews or physical examinations), making judgments about the validity of a disclosure, and evaluating the safety of the child are best left to the investigative agencies, not the mandated reporter.

Deciding whether or not to tell a parent that you plan to report or already have reported child abuse can be a difficult decision. Although there are no legal guidelines for mandated reporters to follow in making this decision, keep in mind that your first priority is establishing the safety of the child. Any information that suggests that informing the parents could increase the risk of further abuse to the child should be considered. Also, be aware that such action could interfere with the investigation. For example, a parent might intimidate a child into recanting allegations, remove the child from their classroom or school, and/or flee to avoid contact with investigators.

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