Category J: Students
Procedure J10: Reporting Instances of Child Abuse/Neglect
Chapter 119, Section 51A of the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts requires that certain identified professionals, among them school and District personnel, report suspected instances of child abuse/neglect. Specifically, reporting is required if, in her/his professional capacity, a professional has reasonable cause to believe that a child is suffering physical or emotional injury resulting from:
- abuse inflicted upon him which causes harm or substantial risk of harm to the child’s health or welfare, including sexual abuse;
- ·neglect, including malnutrition;
- physical dependence upon an addictive drug at birth (shall immediately communicate with the department orally and, within 48 hours, shall file a written report with the department detailing the suspected abuse or neglect); or
- being a sexually exploited child; or
- being a human trafficking victim, as defined by section 20M of Chapter 233.
State law also provides that any person, not just mandated reporters, may file a report if that person has reasonable cause to believe that a child is suffering from or has died as a result of abuse or neglect.
Reporting of suspected instances must be made to the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families (DCF). In order to assist in protecting children who may be victims of the abuse/neglect, as well as protecting the professional standing of the mandated reporters, the Districts’ will maintain protocols to facilitate this reporting.
Each school principal shall assume, or shall designate a member of the school staff to assume the responsibility of receiving reports of suspected Child Abuse/Neglect from school personnel who believe such an incident has occurred.
In instances of possible abuse reported by a staff member, the principal or designee will discuss the evidence with the reporter and determine whether there may be reasonable cause to believe that a reportable condition does exist (according to applicable state regulations). If it is agreed that such an incident may have occurred, the principal or designee will notify the Superintendent. The principal or designee will then contact the Department of Children and Families by phone and will follow-up with a written report within 48 hours after the oral report. If there is reason to believe that a child has died as a result of abuse or neglect, after notifying the Superintendent the principal or designee shall immediately make an oral report to DCF and shall immediately thereafter report the death in writing to DCF, to the District Attorney and to the County Medical Examiner.
If the reporter and the principal or designee cannot agree on whether an event is a reportable condition, or whether it actually occurred, they may request a pre-report conference with DCF without giving any identifying information, to determine whether the situation is reportable. The results of this pre-report conference in no way abridge the right of the reporter to file a report if s/he still believes that the instance is reportable.
Departmental regulations require that state investigators see and talk with the reported child on a home visit, if possible, within the time frames required for emergencies (24 hours) or non-emergency (10 days). If the child cannot be seen at home, for any reason, the investigator is required to make every effort to see the child elsewhere. This often entails a meeting with the child during school hours. The District and its schools will cooperate with investigators and allow these meetings to take place during school hours on school grounds, after notification of parents/guardians. (In all cases the child’s parents/guardians should have already been notified by DCF that a report has been made and an investigation will be conducted.)
By law, within 30 days of receiving a report from a mandated reporter, the department shall notify the mandated reporter, in writing, of its determination of the nature, extent and cause or causes of the injuries to the child and the services that the department intends to provide to the child or the child’s family.
State law requires that mandated reporters who are professionally licensed by the Commonwealth shall complete training to recognize and report suspected child abuse or neglect. The District shall work with staff to ensure that such training occurs.
Reporting Protections and Requirements
Massachusetts State Regulations stipulate that no mandated reporter shall be liable in any civil or criminal action by reason of submitting a report if it was made in good faith; and no privileges relating to the exclusion of confidential communications and the competency of witnesses may be invoked in any civil action arising out of a report made of suspected child abuse or neglect. According to state law, failure of mandated reporters to report instances of abuse could result in fines and imprisonment. Additionally, state law specifies that no employer shall discharge, discriminate or retaliate against a mandated reporter who, in good faith, files a report, testifies or is about to testify in any proceeding involving child abuse or neglect.