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Considerations for Mandated Reporting

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Mandated reporting can feel overwhelming. The laws vary and the requirements can be confusing. It’s not an easy decision. And nobody wants to get it wrong because protecting young people is so important.

That’s why it’s a good idea to learn everything you can about mandated reporting. That way, you can be better prepared when you are faced with these life-altering decisions.

As a youth work professional, you are most likely a mandated reporter. If you’re not sure whether you are or not, check with your own agency for guidance.

Being a mandated reporter means you have a duty to protect the welfare of young people. You also have a duty to know what is needed to make a report.

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    Guidelines you need to be aware of

    So, before you take any action you should be aware of some basic guidelines. Because you have an ethical obligation to understand what the law is. And how to decide if something is reportable or not. It would actually be unethical to make a report without knowing these basics.

    • Know the specific legal requirements on reportable child maltreatment in the state or county where you work.
    • Understand what level of evidence Child Protective Services requires to substantiate a report in your jurisdiction.
    • Be aware of child maltreatment experts that you can consult with about any suspected case of child maltreatment. You don’t have to go it alone.
    • Consider the roles of your colleagues and Child Protective Services in the reporting process.
    • Try to arrange times to communicate with both groups about issues related to child maltreatment and reporting. You want to increase opportunities for collaboration and trust.
    • Respect the limitations of your decision-making about child maltreatment, in terms of conflicting values about parental rights, family preservation, and other cultural factors.

    Build trusting relationships from the beginning

    Making a report of suspected child maltreatment is difficult for everyone involved. You can make things easier by starting with open and honest communication about your role from the beginning. And by doing your own reflection work all along the way.

    • Examine your values and biases.
    • Be curious about the experience of others.
    • Offer unconditional positive regard and recognize their self- determination.
    • Be clear about the limits of your confidentiality.
    • Discuss some ways you might engage with families before making a report.

    Be intentional when building relationships with young people and their family. Take the time to build authentic trust. Focus on the quality of your interactions. It will be easier when you have tough conversations, and it will create better outcomes for all.

    Ethical Considerations

    Remember that the law generally says you must have a reasonable suspicion. But it is often not clear cut. So, think about it this way. You have to believe there is maltreatment. Not that you have to prove it. That’s not your job. But you need to have enough information to believe it for yourself.

    Not everything you suspect will be reportable. You still have options and alternatives to respond whether you report or not.

    So, here are some considerations to reflect on:

    • Examine your relationship with this child and family
    • Be curious about what you are observing
    • Employ a decision-making model
    • Check in with your gut
    • Think about race and culture
    • Reflect on your own values, norms, biases
    • Ask yourself if this is truly about safety
    • Consult with at least one other person for objective insight
    • Offer support and/or supportive services
    • Have a difficult conversation

    This short blog was a good way to get you thinking. But there is so much more to learn. That's why YIPA has made an online training that is free to everyone. This is so important. Please do check out Updated Considerations for Mandated Reporting.

    About the author

    Joanne Rice is the member satisfaction specialist of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA), a non-profit association of youth-serving organizations. We're your source for exceptional, affordable, personal and professional online learning via The Professional Youth Worker.  Join us!

    To ask Joanne a question or share your feedback about this blog, email [email protected].

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