The law is very specific about who is responsible to report child abuse and neglect as well as what is necessary to report. Teachers and school officials make up the most significant number of mandated reporters and are also responsible to attend mandated reporter training and certify they understand the seriousness of this responsibility. Other adults that are in a position of authority over children, including social workers, police officers, clergy, childcare, and health care providers, as well as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) are also legally required to attend training and become certified mandated reporters.
The current legal mandates have the authority to hold mandated reporters accountable if they do not contact the Child Protection Services hotline when child abuse or neglect has occurred, these consequences include jail time and/or a fine. While CASA of Santa Cruz County is unaware of such a fine being imposed on an Advocate or another mandated reporter in our community, we take this seriously at CASA of Santa Cruz County and encourage all mandated reporters to participate in trainings when offered to understand their obligation. We ask that our volunteers attend training within 90 days of their first assignment and send a copy of their certificate of completion to their CASA Supervisor.
Many support the approach that ‘when in doubt, a mandated reporter should call’ the hotline to report child abuse and/or neglect. Across the country, including Santa Cruz County, neglect remains by far the most significant reason why a child comes to the attention of the Juvenile Courts at around 50% of the cases. Physical Abuse is second at around 20-25% of cases. Once reported, Child Protection Services, aka Families and Children’s Services, must determine if the reported concerns fall below a standard known as the ‘Minimum Sufficient Level of Care’ (MSLC). One working definition of MSLC is defined as the point below which a home is considered inadequate for the care of a particular child. It is a practice value and decision-making guide that helps workers and judges ensure that children are safe but also not removed from their families unnecessarily. You can imagine it is difficult to interpret and use this definition to determine when to call the hotline and when not to call the hotline. It is especially difficult when it comes to neglect. “Neglect is frequently defined as the failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision to the degree that the child's health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm” https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/define.pdf
If we think about our own childhood or parenting style as it compares to our neighbor, other family members, or our friends, it’s difficult to develop a standard for every household, from one culture to the next, and even among various sections of our community. We support learning about mandated reporting, if only to learn what is being asked of your child’s teacher, coach, or counselor and other mandated reporters like a CASA volunteer.
CASA of Santa Cruz County believes that when in doubt, that we first step back and look at the family situation. We find out if the parent may be stressed out in the moment or lacking a basic need to minimize the stress or potential for neglectfulness, and then see if they are responsive to support. The overwhelmingly obvious pattern for families that come into the Dependency court system is that they lack the resources to meet the basic needs for their children. Thus, a helping hand or connection to a community-based resource can really make a difference. If you remain in doubt about whether a child is being neglected, consider asking the parents you are concerned with if they need some help and remind them that they can call the 211 help line or go to their website at https://www.211santacruzcounty.org where they can get access to all the health information, social services and obtain referral information from their comprehensive resource database. However, if you know there is potential harm to a child, please call 831-454-CARE to report child abuse and/or neglect, and for any immediate life-threatening danger call 911.
To learn more about Mandated Reporter expecations and attend an online training, visit: https://mandatedreporterca.com