Missouri lawmakers tasked with looking out for our most vulnerable citizens should demand better than the current state law that “mandates” reporting of suspected child abuse but comes with two serious flaws.
The first of these is a gap in the legal requirement governing people holding positions of responsibility — doctors, teachers, social workers, ministers and others. All of these are so-called mandated reporters of suspected child abuse, but the law allows someone to satisfy that obligation if they merely “cause a report to be made.”
This option has been interpreted to mean a mandated reporter is off the hook once they pass information to someone else in authority, who then must decide whether to take the information to law enforcement.
As bad as this is — what critics call a Penn State type of loophole — you can make an equally strong case that failing to adequately train mandated reporters of abuse is just as bad.
Too frequently, a state task force found, those held legally accountable for making a report of suspected abuse have had little or no instruction in how to carry out this duty. No wonder many would gladly pass the buck to someone else.
We agree with Joy Oesterly, executive director of Missouri KidsFirst and leader of the task force. Strengthening the safety net and protecting children against child abuse requires a broad approach — early intervention with young offenders, expanded mental health services for both victims and offenders, help for prosecutors, and more.
But we see a bright line here:
- Everyone who is mandated to report suspected child abuse in Missouri must receive enough training to confidently carry out that responsibility.
- Everyone with this responsibility should know they are welcome to share that with others higher in the chain of command, but all must also make their own, immediate report of what they observed and suspect.