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Anticipating the Impact of Implementation

Whenever educators consider reporting child abuse and neglect situations, questions arise which should be considered. The following are a few of the most commonly asked questions:

What if DCF does not respond immediately?
There are several reasons why DCF might not respond immediately. First, although you have immediate concerns about a child, DCF may determine that the situation does not warrant an emergency response (Earlier, we discussed that situations involving suspected child abuse or neglect may or may not represent a true emergency). One way to avoid confusion is to ask, during the initial contact with the Department, what time frame DCF anticipates for responding to this situation. This may also help you to give anticipatory guidance to the child – that is, to be able to tell the child what will happen next. Certainly, if it appears that the child is in immediate danger and cannot go home, the school should ensure that they provide DCF with all available information explaining the immediacy of the situation. If this requires an additional call and the social worker who took the initial report is not available, ask to speak with their supervisor. In cases of immediate danger, the reporter should also contact law enforcement in addition to calling DCF and filing the 51A.

Remember that emergencies are something the DCF social workers have learned to assess. A report is not considered to constitute an emergency if DCF determines that available information does not indicate that the situation is one in which failure to take immediate action would pose a threat of immediate danger to the child. In non-emergency investigations, DCF is required to respond with a home visit and to have a face-to-face meeting with the reported child within three working days of receipt of report and to complete its response within fifteen days.

As stated above, if DCF determines that the report does constitute an emergency the investigation will commence within two hours of initial contact and an interim report with an initial determination regarding the child’s safety and custody will be completed as soon as possible but not more than twenty-four hours after initial contact. DCF’s final report will be complete within five business days of initial contact.

When DCF determines that an allegation does not require an immediate course of action, staff will often help the reporter with suggestions for the interim. No matter how frustrated you feel, it does not help the child or the situation to become angry and critical of DCF. Just like educators, these professionals attempt to do the best job they can with a limited amount of time and resources.

What if I know that the police (or other mandated reporters) have filed a 51A on the same situation that concerns me? Do I still need to file?

Yes. Keep in mind that your report may not be the only piece of information DCF has on the child or the child’s situation. Other reporters (friends, neighbors, pediatricians, relatives, a Sunday school teacher, etc.) may have also alerted DCF about their suspicions. There may already be an open case on the child. The point is that even if you know other mandated reporters have filed a 51A concerning the same situation, it remains your legal obligation to call DCF and file a report. Your information or experience with the child may (or may not) be the piece that tips the scale and causes DCF to intervene. Only DCF has access to this accumulated “universe” of information – individual reporters do not. This information puts DCF in the best position to make decisions about how and when to respond. The benefit of the doubt should always be given to the child – if you suspect a child is in danger – REPORT.

What if DCF screens out the report?

Among the reasons presented in this section (below), if available information is not sufficient for DCF to determine that there is reasonable cause to believe that a child has been abused or neglected, the report will be screened out. As such, it is important that you provide the Department with all the information which you believe might aid DCF in determining whether or not the alleged abuse or neglect occurred. It is wise to have as much information available as possible when you call the Department (See Appendix G, “Filing an Effective 51A Report.”). Again, if you do not have all this information, do not let this impede your filing. File with what information you have and let the professionals make their determinations.

Having documentation of relevant facts, dates, quotes, etc., can help to ensure that information is accurately conveyed at the time the report is filed. Documentation can also facilitate your recollection of what has gone on with the child over time. However, your decision to file or not file a report should not be based on whether or not you think you have sufficient documentation. Remember, as a mandated reporter you are required to report if you have a reasonable cause to believe that a child is suffering abuse or neglect. The suspected abuse or neglect must be immediately reported to the Department by oral communication and by making a written report within 48 hours after the oral communication (See Appendix H, “51A Report Form”).

If a report is screened out, it may also be because the alleged perpetrator of the abuse or neglect has been identified, and they were not in a caregiver role during the time when the abuse or neglect took place. With the exception of human trafficking allegations, cases where the alleged perpetrator was not in a caregiver role are beyond DCF’s authority to address and are normally referred to the District Attorney. Cases of problematic sexual behavior between children and youth (which are currently required to be reported to DCF) are also situations that DCF will normally screen out with a referral to the DAs and agencies equipped for evaluation and treatment.

Also, if a report is screened out, it does not mean that you cannot file another report at a later date. In the interim, documenting can help in establishing your own record of what is going on with the child, and this information can be useful if you decide to file a report in the future. Again, the case that has received several reports, whether screened in or out, can be a source of critical information. In the meantime, help the child by remaining available, acknowledging concerns, helping them to enhance self-esteem, and continuing to provide them a positive school experience. Educators can be an invaluable source of support, and one should not underestimate the influence that they have on children.

What if the child knows that DCF has been contacted and DCF has screened out the report?

Explain, as appropriate to the child’s age and development, that they are believed, but the Department will not be conducting an investigation because there is not sufficient information and/or the situation (i.e. alleged perpetrator is clearly not a caretaker) does not fall within the Department’s mandate and is being referred to others for help. In the meantime, you hope that you and the child can continue to talk and you also will work with them to find additional ways to address the concerns they have raised. Above all the child should not feel abandoned by you. The fact that DCF did not screen in the report does not preclude you from offering help by exploring other mechanisms and resources to assist the child and their family.

What if the parents remove the child from school?

This has happened – and there is always a possibility that it will happen again. However, once the report has been made, approaching the parents with concern and offers to help (perhaps through the local Family Resource Center 146 ) can often help to prevent this situation. Remember that most abusive and neglectful parents are those who have not had their own needs met. They often feel overwhelmed, and even those who are initially angry may respond positively to the caring professional. If the child is moved to another school, that school will have to send for the records. A call to DCF informing them of the child’s removal, and to the child’s new school or teacher may ensure that they will be protected in the future.

What if the child has made up a story about being abused or neglected?

As stated above, children usually do not make up stories of this type. Even the children who present themselves as mistreated may have discrepancies in the story, or their affect may also provide clues that the story is fabricated. However, the educator may not always be able to determine the extent to which a child’s story is accurate. Consult the chart on physical and behavioral indicators of abuse and neglect (see Appendix D). Remember, educators are not investigators. If enough of these appear to be present, you are mandated to report your suspicions.

146 https://www.frcma.org/


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