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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Are schools too quick to report suspected abuse, neglect?

Photo: Jordan Whitt/Unsplash

Teachers, counselors and other school staff are required to report suspected child abuse and neglect. In New York City, from August 2019 through January 2022, the vast majority of school-based reports were false alarms, reports Asher Lehrer-Small on The 74. "Only 24 percent of investigations prompted by calls from school staff found evidence of abuse or neglect."

"Even when closed and dropped, investigations can stay on parents’ records for years afterward and erase job prospects in youth-serving fields," writes Lehrer-Small. Children and parents are traumatized.

It's a national issue, he writes. "Among mandated reporters, K-12 workers are the most likely to report abuse or neglect and the least likely to have their allegations find evidence of wrongdoing, data show."

“Teachers, out of fear that they’re going to get in trouble, will report even if they’re just like, ‘Well, it could be abuse.’ It could be. It also could be 10 million other things,” said Jessica Beck, a middle school English teacher in the Bronx.
. . . “What looks like neglect to a teacher who has privilege might actually be poverty,” said Beck, who is white.
. . . The ethos is “when in doubt, report,” said Darcey Merritt, an associate professor of social work at New York University.

The problem is that some of those reports really do uncover abuse and neglect. It's a judgment call and not everybody has good judgment.

Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote about the pros and cons of mandated reporting of abuse suspicions in 2018.

153 views4 comments


Oct 11, 2022

Teachers in most states are required by law to contact child protective services if they have any concerns a child might be abused or neglected.


Oct 10, 2022

Each year Prince George's County Public Schools in Maryland holds a beginning of the year in-service for all teachers. Along with SafeSchools online, ou country school system makes it very very clear that if a teacher does not report child abuse, even suspected or maybe, we will not only be fired, the county will work hand-in-hand with prosecutors to put a teacher in prison for not reporting.

The school system and prosecutor put teachers in prison for not reporting "unfounded" cases.

My county will make sure a teacher can never teach again-anywhere in the USA.

It is only the first quarter of the year and I have made three reports already.

You bet we report like our lives depend on…

Oct 10, 2022
Replying to

It is the same in my district. I always tell new teachers, ”if you are not sure, call child services anyway. Let them decide. You can lose your credential if you don’t report. Always cover your ass.”


Oct 09, 2022

Also, social workers will often not “find abuse” until there is an established pattern. So this “reporting small red flags” is what gets them to see the pattern of escalating abuse when a kid ends up in the ER.

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