One of the unfortunate aspects about summer break for students is that studies show that child abuse reports decrease during the summer. The number of child abuse reports called in during summer breaks shrinks, not by a small amount, but by significant numbers in some studies. In 2019, the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline noted a 23 percent decrease in the number of child abuse calls. This large decrease happens in every state during summer break for students, recorded in departments of family services across the country. But why is this? And what can we do about it? These are valid questions given that, in theory, with a decrease in child abuse reports, it means that there are children being abused no one is there to stop it. No one is reporting these incidents. Without regular exposure to mandated reporters like teachers and school counselors, no one is watching out for our at-risk and marginalized children when they are home all summer.
Why Do Child Abuse Reports Decrease Over Summer Break?
There are some obvious reasons why child abuse reports are consistently lower over the summer break months as compared to the rest of the year. It is not that there is less abuse over the summer months. Abusers do not take a vacation when the weather turns warm. If anything, it makes sense that the amount of actual abuse of children increases during the summer months solely for the reason that children are at home. This means that, in theory, a child who is at risk of being abused at home is now in the environment much more. During the summer the at-risk child is at school all day and away from the potential abuser.
The obvious reason for fewer child abuse reports is that children are not in school. Under New Jersey law, as well as the law in every other state, school personnel including teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, staff, and all the way to the custodial staff are all mandatory reporters. When students are in school every day, teachers, paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, and other staff can see the signs and symptoms of child abuse. When they suspect a child is being abused, they are bound by law to report it. They are bound to report it even if there is very little evidence to support a claim for child abuse.
What Are Mandated Reporters?
Even though the law in New Jersey states that everyone is a mandated reporter if they suspect that a child is being abused, there are specific professions that are listed as mandated reporters. People within certain professions are held to a higher standard than the average citizen when they suspect that a child is being abused. Any professional who works with or around children is considered a mandated reporter. This includes people who work in the public school system, as well as people who work in private schools. It also includes people who work in day cares and watch over young children, toddlers, and infants.
Mandated reporters are required by law to report any instance or any sign of abuse in a child. This is supposed to happen even when there is little evidence to support a claim of child abuse. It is not up to the mandated reporter to gather the evidence necessary to prove the case. That is left up to the staff at DCPP to do the investigation and determine if there is cause for further review. The mandated reporter has to make a report even when there is just a “sense” that child abuse is happening. If teachers and paraprofessionals fail to make reports, they themselves get into trouble for failing their mandated reporter duties. Educators are supposed to do this even if their co-workers or their supervisors like principals and vice principals disagree with them that there is child abuse.
When Should Child Abuse Reports Be Made?
Whenever a mandated reporter sees any of the following symptoms, signs, or issues, they are required to call the 1-800 child abuse hotline:
- Any physical signs of abuse such as bruises, cuts, burns, or any unexplained injuries.
- Belief that a child has an unhealthy or dangerous living situation where the child is around drugs or alcohol, or if left alone for long periods of time, or there are people in the household who have been convicted of abusing children in the past.
- Evidence of emotional trauma.
- Frequent absences from school associated with injuries.
- Reports made to you personally about an abused or neglected child.
- Uncharacteristic behavior actions that are beyond the normal for that particular child.
- When a child actually tells their teacher that they are experiencing physical, verbal, emotional, or psychological abuse.
- When a child comes to school who is constantly hungry and complains of no food in the home.
- When a child reports that they are being abused.
- When an adult admits to the mandated reporter that they have engaged in abusive conduct.
- Witnessing abusive behavior, including physical, verbal, and psychological abuse.
Mandated reporters are encouraged to call the child abuse hotline even when they are not sure about whether or not there is abuse. The idea is to be better safe than sorry.
The mandated reporter system can cause problems for innocent parents and guardians who are baselessly accused of abuse. Under these circumstances, parents are encouraged to contact an experienced family law attorney who has dealt with abuse allegations and DCPP with many cases in the past.
The South Jersey DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Are Here to Help When Dealing with Abuse Allegation Issues and DCPP
If you have questions about mandated reporters of child abuse or having false allegations of abuse lodged against you or a family member, you need to contact an attorney who knows how to deal with DCPP. Our experienced South Jersey DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker can help you navigate these dangerous waters and make sure the record is set straight. Please contact us online or call us at 856-210-9776 to learn more. We serve clients in Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, Voorhees and South Jersey. We serve clients located throughout New Jersey.