"Be the change you wish to see in the world."

Monday, May 10, 2010

To report or not to report?

Lately, I have grown tired of my obligation to make child abuse reports. At times, I have felt more like a police officer than a therapist. Reporting suspected child abuse is one of the hardest and most stressful parts of the job, especially because it compromises the relationship and trust between the therapist and client. I surely didn't get into this profession to be a narc. On the other hand, I did get into this profession to protect children who cannot help themselves. And stories like the Jackson brother's remind me why it is such and important part of my job, even though it is never the easiest part.

Stories like these prove the need for mandated reporting laws. This is one of the most horrific child abuse cases I have ever seen in my career. Shockingly, one of these boys reported to their teacher that they were being starved at home, but the boy said that the teacher "did not believe them." Social workers went into this home numerous times and somehow missed the signs of the severe physical abuse and neglect. Apparently at the time of this case, social workers were only legally obligated to investigate the well-being of the foster child that was assigned to them... not assess the safety of the other children in the home. As a result of this case, thankfully the law changed in New Jersey to require social workers to ensure the safety of all children in foster homes, not simply their client.

Adults are supposed to protect children, but somehow in my field it is uncommon for this to occur. I am appaulled that this foster mother, Ms. Jackson, only served a mild sentence of 4 years. In my professional opinion, abuse, especially this severe, is equivalent to murdering a childhood and often ruins chances of having a happy and healthy adult life. These boys are evidence that people do have resilience despite the damaging things that can happen to them... but that doesn't mean they should happen. The sentencing for this type of child abuse should be much more stringent.

How is it possible that not one mandated reporter (teachers, mental health workers, social workers, doctors, nurses) made a suspected child abuse report? When the 19 year old boy was found digging in the trash for food at 3am, a stranger in the neighborhood called 911. He reported to the 911 operator that the child appeared to be under 10 years old. The oldest, at 19, weighed 45 pounds. How could not one teacher throughout his life report this?

I have professionally experienced teachers' resistance to report child abuse quite frequently. I can understand more than anyone how conflicted one feels when having to make a suspected child abuse report on a family that one has a relationship with. However, I also strongly believe in my obligation to do so, not only legally, but morally.

Cultural issues come into play, as well. I have heard teachers say that as white women in an all African American or Latino school, they feel that abuse is part of the culture and it would ruin the relationship with the parents to report. To that I say... SO WHAT?! Whether you believe in child abuse reporting or not, you are obligated by law to report SUSPECTED child abuse. It is not a mandated reporter's job to investigate or decide whether a suspected abuse is worthy of being reported. It is only required that they report it. And by not reporting it you are protecting the abusers... you are perpetuating the secrecy and shame that children carry with them, as a result of the abuse. It shouldn't be about race. A child is a child no matter what color and all should be protected by adults that they trust. If that boy's teacher had made a report, maybe those children would not have suffered as long as they did.


  1. Cases like these are SICKENING! How can someone in their right mind deprive another human, let alone their own child (whether biological or not), of basic human necessities? It is only out of pure mental illness that someone would be able to sleep at night knowing the extreme abuse they are inflicting on another life. If you do not want or cannot provide for a child as a parent, it is only out of extreme selfishness that you would choose to continue to rear them.

    These words don't even come close to the emotion I feel when I hear of things like this. Thank you Jessie for helping people see the damage ANY type of abuse can put on a child, and how this must stop!