This workshop was led by Jamie Pfister, MPH, and Patricia McLaughlin, M.A., Ed.S., from the Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA) who both have many years of experience working with children and are experts on this topic. In collaboration with the Bucks County Intermediate Unit #22, the workshop was a “hybrid” venue with both a live audience and streamed over Zoom. The format worked! Those in attendance and those online appeared to actively participate as shown by excellent questions at the break and the end of the presentation.
At the end of this activity, the learner will be able to:
- List indicators of serious physical injury, serious mental injury, sexual abuse or exploitation, imminent risk, and serious physical neglect.
- Discuss how to identify signs of serious physical injury, serious mental injury, sexual abuse or exploitation, imminent risk, and serious physical neglect.
- Describe the dynamics of child abuse.
- Describe what is “reasonable cause” in suspecting child abuse.
- Explain who is classified as a mandated reporter and what those responsibilities are under the Child Protective Services Law.
- Describe the procedure for reporting of child abuse to child protective services.
- Discuss your obligation/responsibility to report suspected child abuse to child protective services.
All these goals were met. Jamie led off and described the roles and responsibilities of mandated reporters clearly. Her discussion included the life cycle of abuse, stressing that sexual abuse often begins with “grooming” where the perpetrator develops an intimate relationship with a child leading to exploitation. Jamie also pointed out that the role of reporting goes beyond the professional relationship with the child. It extends to the community and day-to-day interaction. Mostly, the mandated reporter must observe children and their behavior and report a reasonable suspicion of child-abuse to child-line, as required by law.
Child Protective Services Law requires that mandated reporters, including all licensed professionals among the 29 Pennsylvania licensing boards, receive this training prior to license renewal. She noted that an important aspect of the law is to protect abused children from future abuse and proceeded to highlight the many changes in the law over the years. She also provided an extensive list of other individuals, who routinely work with children, who may also require this training. This list of 16 mandated reporters includes, but is not limited to, volunteers working with children, all school personnel, independent contractors working in facilities that provide services to children, clergy, law enforcement, EMT’s, library employees, attorneys, foster parents etc. Mandated reporters are required to support suspicion of child abuse even if not working at their profession at the time of learning about the incident. She discussed the difference between “Mandated” and “Permissive” reporters. Mandated reporters are required to report suspicions of child abuse. Permissive reporters may report suspicions of child abuse. She provided the guidelines for making a report.
Jamie then described the three services that now work together to protect children. These include Child Protection Services (CPS), General Protective Services (GPS), and law enforcement.
This presentation defined the difference between a “perpetrator” and an “offender”, and provided a discussion of the age of the child, and age differences between the child and the “perpetrator” or “offender” required to meet the definition of child abuse.
During her part of the presentation, Pat discussed the “indicators” or signs and symptoms of the types of child abuse. These include unexplainable changes in behavior, sleep patterns, eating habits, bruises, or physical signs, such as loss of abilities such as inability to run or refusing to sit. She said that these symptoms are “red-flags” that may cause an adult to ask further questions of the child, perhaps leading to a report. Pat then discussed legal consent to sexual activity and recent updates to the Child-Protective Services law before describing the child-abuse reporting process. To make a report the person must:
- Call the child-abuse hotline (1-800-932-0313) or report electronically at www.compass.state.pa.us/cwls
- Complete the CY47 form and submit it to the local agency within 48 hours
- Cooperate with the investigation
Pat and Jamie did a nice job of presenting therapeutic interaction with a child who is disclosing or presenting symptoms of child abuse. They mentioned the importance of reporting first and limiting the “internal” investigation or questions to avoid “tainting” the victim’s responses. They showed a short video which clearly demonstrated guidelines to help children when talking about abuse.
- Stay Calm – “I am happy to help you.”
- Support – “I am sorry this happened to you.”
- Affirm – “You did the right thing by telling me.”
- Believe – “It’s not your fault. I believe you.”
- Empower – “You have the right to be safe.”
- Report – “We need to tell others about this to make sure you are safe.”
Under confidentiality, mandated reporting “trumps” ethics rules of most professions in Pennsylvania. Physicians, psychologists, social workers, counselors, etc., are required to report suspected child abuse, despite the ethics requirement of the profession. Although the purpose of the law is not to scare providers, there are “Large Teeth” to enforce implementation of this law in Pennsylvania. Jamie and Pat suggested that mandated reporters “err” on the side of protecting the child. Serious legal charges and fines/incarceration may occur if a mandated reporter knowingly or willingly fails to report. The Bottom Line = When in doubt, report.
Mandated reporters are protected from prosecution for a “Good Faith” report, even if the report is unfounded. Vindictive or frivolous reporting can be prosecuted.
Pat reported on the results of the “Adverse Childhood Experiences” (ACE) study. This study involved 17,000 participants who reported a score from 0 to 10 on traumatic childhood experiences that were not treated at the time. The results reported that 60% of participants experienced child abuse, and 25% experienced neglect. The impact of trauma is cumulative, leading to a wide range of health and social problems and an increase in risky behavior for children and youth. There is also an increase in alcohol and substance abuse, obesity, and serious mental health problems. The study concluded:
- Childhood trauma occurs in all communities.
- Childhood trauma has long-term damaging consequences.
- One caring adult can make a difference.
Pat ended the workshop by talking about self-care for those who are mandated reporters. She acknowledged how stressful working in human services can be for many professionals. Having to report child abuse can put someone over the top of their stress tolerance. Seeking support, staying healthy, knowing your own limitations, and reminding yourself that reporting a suspicion of child abuse is the right thing, are important self-care reminders
Although this workshop is necessary to renew licenses for professionals in 29 Pennsylvania Licensing Boards and others, today’s presentation is valuable above and beyond the requirement. Overall, I thought this was an important and informative workshop!
One final note. I will be leaving Foundations Community Partnership at the end of December. This is Dr. Dan’s last “Blog” post. I hope you have enjoyed reading the workshop blogs, as much as I have enjoyed writing them for the past 15 years. Thanks to all of you for your support and participation in the Professional Education Workshop series.