Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Child Care and Child Welfare

As child care providers, we are sometimes put in difficult situations with families.  You may have parents going through a nasty divorce, parents accusing each other of child abuse/neglect,  parents who have court orders in relation to the care and supervision of their children or a child who you suspect is suffering at the hands of their parents.  No matter the situation, you may feel like you are in a tough spot.  

I am going to be covering these difficult issues in a series of articles on this blog.  The first issue I am going to talk about is suspected child abuse or neglect.   As a former CPS social worker, I have visited child care providers who were trying to do the right thing, but often were making mistakes – mistakes that could easily be life-threatening for the children in their care.
  • A child comes to your care with an unexplained injury – or the explanation given by the parent doesn’t seem to “add up”. 
It is not your job to conduct an investigation.  It is your job to be a reporter.  As a child care provider (in most states) you are considered a “mandated reporter”.  What that means is that if you suspect child abuse OR neglect, you are required by law to contact the child abuse reporting hotline in your area.  It is our general instinct to confront the parent about the injuries and conduct our own investigation into the matter.  However, you have not been trained to conduct an investigation.  Most likely you don’t really know the laws governing these types of cases or the local jurisdictional responsibilities.  As the provider you can give valuable information to the CPS investigator when they call you to inquire about the report.  You are able to identify any behavioral changes in the child or general physical conditions.  Often, you are the only other person who sees the child’s body unclothed (in the case of infants or toilet training young ones).  It is critical however, to provide factual information.  Don’t make up “facts” because you are asked a question that you think you should know the answer to.  If you don’t know for a fact – state that you do not know.  It makes investigating child abuse cases so much more difficult if the investigator has to disprove supposition.    
  • A child tells you that they are being hurt at home. 
Your job is to contact the child abuse hotline and report exactly what the child has told you.  The hotline worker will try to ascertain details, but if you don’t know details – don’t make them up!  Only report the facts, your direct observations, what the child told you EXACTLY.  Sometimes we try to fill in between the lines, make the story seem more accurate, determine what we think might have happened…. All of these things make a thorough investigation more difficult.
  •  A teacher comes to you (as a Director, Lead Teacher, Assistant Director) since you are their supervisor and tells you that they suspect child abuse/neglect.  They want you to make a call to the CPS hotline on their behalf.
What I would do in this situation is make the phone call together.  The teacher is the one who has the suspicions based on something they have observed.  It is not appropriate for you to take their report and then call the hotline.  The hotline intake worker will ask questions that you will not be able to answer and they will need to speak to the teacher anyway.  Being moral support to your employee is fine, but influencing the call is not – other than to make sure that the call is made.
  • A teacher calls in a hotline report to CPS without your prior knowledge or “approval” as their supervisor or Director. 
It is not a good idea to have a program policy that all child abuse/neglect issues must be brought to the Director (insert whatever title you want here) first.  Being a mandated reporter does not mean that the person must report to their supervisor FIRST.  You can have a policy that states that the administration of the program would appreciate being informed when a child abuse hotline report is made.  But it is not OK for you to require them to inform your administrative people first.  Really, they cannot even be required to inform the program administration at all.  It is just generally accepted practice to make sure administrators know about these situations so they know what is going on when the investigator shows up at your door.

Remember, the most critical issue here is to train your employees appropriately and make sure they know the definitions of abuse and neglect and how to appropriately report these situations to the authorities.

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