• Joanne 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.

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