As a mandated reporter, calling the child abuse hotline can be a frightening first time experience. I was nervous the first time around, but got over it quickly to help the child and the family. Anyone can make an abuse call but certain write my college paper professions are mandated. In Illinois these professions include mine, which is school and Child Care Personnel, Medical Personnel, Law Enforcement Personnel and certain state agency’s personnel. Check DCFS’s FAQ for a complete list.
In Illinois, child abuse is defined as “…the mistreatment of a child under the age of 18 by a parent, caretaker, someone living in their home or someone who works with or around children… Child abuse can be physical, sexual, or emotional.” Neglect is defined as “…when a parent or responsible caretaker fails to provide adequate supervision, food, clothing, shelter or other basics for a child.”
I was nervous about calling because it’s a serious allegation, and a serious situation. But it’s not our responsibility to determine if the allegation is true, so don’t worry that you might be mistaken, the social workers will figure that out. And don’t worry about retaliation, if you are acting in good faith, you cannot be held liable under criminal or civil law. Keep in mind also that if you’re a mandated reporter, “a mandated reporter’s failure to report suspected instances of child abuse or neglect to DCFS constitutes a Class A misdemeanor;”.
Let me share my experience to help you through the process. I was working at a small daycare, we were licensed for 50 and serviced 2 – 10 year olds. I was working with schoolagers at the time and had two brothers in my room. Peter (names have been changed), the oldest at 10 was autistic and high on the autism scale. Peter did not talk and needed special attention which we were striving to give to him. David, his brother was eight and while he wasn’t diagnosed we also suspected he was autistic as well, although much lower on the scale than Peter. David could communicate well, was in his grade level and was a fun kid, but definitely a bit of a challenge.
The boys also had a younger sister in our preschool room. We teachers gave the family a lot of sympathy because not only did they have Peter and David to deal with but Andrea, the youngest had physical issues. She had to have surgery on her back for a severe curvature to the spine and after missing many days came back to us wearing a full back brace. Peter and Andrea required so much attention David seemed to be put on the back burner and yearned for attention. Mom was a petite, quiet woman who handled her kids well but we weren’t sure how she handled her husband. Dad was strong, domineering and although polite, a bit overwhelming.
It was summer when our afternoon school age teacher noticed bruises on David’s back. She had touched him and he flinched causing her to inspect. She asked him what happened and he said he’d made his dad angry and he’d used his belt on him. The bruises were long lines on his back. This prompted our first call to the hotline. The afternoon school age teacher called. When you call the hotline you need to speak to the social worker yourself, don’t ask your supervisor to do it. Make sure you’re prepared when you call. Have “The child’s name, address and age. The nature of the suspected abuse or neglect, including when and where it occurred. The names of suspected perpetrator and their relationship to the child (parent, teacher, etc.) Any other information you think may help.” ready when you call. They took the information and said they would check up on it.
It was later in the summer when I noticed circles going up the inside of David’s forearm. They were healing and we hadn’t noticed them before because the boys always wore long sleeves, even on the hot days. David told me they were bug bites, but because they were in straight lines I thought they might be cigarette burns. So this time I called, gave them my report and then followed up with a written report. It was a little while after that that both the other teacher and I got letters saying that both reports had been unfounded, meaning, for whatever reason, child abuse was not indicated.
Fall came and the kids went back to school. Not long after, dad dropped the kids off in the morning looked at our director and said, “You don’t have to call on us, David’s fine. ” David had bruises on his face on each cheek. He told us dad had done it by grabbing his face when mad at him. After two unfounded reports and dad’s reaction we hesitated. Our director called our DCSF representative for his input, and meanwhile the boys went off to school. It was later that day when dad came in and accusingly told our director “Thank you for turning me in and for ruining our lives”. It was a bit scary, but David’s safety meant more to us than dad’s anger. And it wasn’t us who called this time, it was David’s school teacher. At any rate we were relieved. David, Peter and Andrea were being pulled out of the family.
That wasn’t the end of our involvement however. Several months later, the afternoon school age teacher, our director and I were subpoenaed to appear in court on the case. Another fear-provoking aspect was facing that man in court. But we did it, we found substitutes at the center and took the morning off to go to the courthouse. We sat in a small room while one of the assistant district attorneys took our statements about what we had witnessed with David, and told us what to expect in court. Sadly, at this time we found out why our initial report about the bruises on David’s back had been unfounded. The social workers have to follow up on a report within 24 hours and because they were so shorthanded (another recession victim) they didn’t. The ADA was not happy about that.
After an hour or two the ADA left the room and we sat alone for a while to chat and try to abate our nervousness. When he returned he informed us that when the defense found out that we three witnesses had actually shown up to court, they had decided to settle. Turns out with a lot of these cases the people who did the reporting don’t show up. We were shocked, the defendant had backed down, another testament to the importance of our role as a mandated reporter. We had won, we felt empowered without even entering the courtroom.
The last we heard about the family, mom and dad had spilt and mom had all three kids back home with her, a happy ending. So please don’t worry about reporting. Not only is it important to report but oh so important to follow through and maybe even go to court. We faced out fears, we followed through and quite possibly saved a family.