WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A MANDATORY REPORTER OF SEXUAL ABUSE, PHYSICAL ABUSE, AND NEGLECT?

Introduction
Any person who works with students in the Bemidji Area Schools, whether paid or volunteer, accepts a very important legal responsibility, protecting all students against sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect.  Failure to accept these responsibilities can result in censure, fines and even incarceration.

Sexual Abuse, Physical Abuse, and Neglect
In general, when someone has touched the genital area, sexual abuse has occurred.  Physical abuse is oftentimes observable.  Neglect or the withholding of nurture or basic needs is more difficult to ascertain.

Mandatory Reporting
There is a very long and complex law on abuse.  Part of the law requires anyone who works with children to be a mandatory reporter.  This includes all paid employees (teachers, paraprofessionals, and school staff) as well as volunteers.  This is an area where you are required to use your own best common sense.  If, in your judgment, there is the potential that a student in your care has been abused by anyone, you must report the incident to social services and/or law enforcement immediately.

How to Report
If you suspect abuse or neglect you should call Child Protection Intake at Beltrami County Social Services immediately.  The phone number is 333-8316.  You can call Law Enforcement during non-business hours at 751-9111 or 333-9111. Hubbard Cty. Child Protection phone number is 732-1451.

Reporting Specifics
If you suspect abuse:

1.  Call Social Services and/or Law Enforcement immediately.  Minnesota statute mandates this call be made within 24 hours of knowledge of the incident.

2.  Within 72 hours you must follow your verbal report with a written report for Beltrami Cty., fax report to 333-8307. For Hubbard Cty. , fax report to (218)732-2311. The same written form can be used for both counties.

3.  Do not investigate – wait for someone in authority to ask you to do something.

4.  Do not talk about the case.

5.  Keep good documentation of what you have observed in your personal files.

6.  Keep a copy of the written report in a locked cabinet.

7.  Staff who have first hand knowledge are required to write and submit the report.

8.  It is acceptable to report incidents of suspected abuse or neglect to your supervisor.  However, it does not meet the requirement of the law.

Mandatory reporters are immune from any legal action.  This has been made part of the law to allow students maximum protection and freedom to grow up in a society free from abuse.

Knows or Has Reason to Believe

These words come from the statute.  How do you know or have reason to believe?  People who physically or sexually abuse children or neglect their basic needs come from all walks of life.  You cannot look at someone and make a judgment about their potential to abuse students.  Experience tells us it is better to look at the characteristics of those who have the potential to be abused than abusers.  Assume anyone can be an abuser.

The key word is vulnerability.  Some children are more vulnerable than others.  When students are placed in vulnerable positions they are potential victims.  The last child to get off the bus; the coach who takes students home after practice; the only female in a work group.  These are examples of things to watch.  Homes with risk factors are also areas to watch.  If a student is struggling with life issues, he or she could be more vulnerable to abuse and neglect.

Summary
Students can be physically abused.  Marks left on their bodies are generally evidence of this type of abuse.  Sexual abuse is generally learned by listening to student complaints as well as listening to their friends.  Neglect is withholding life’s basic needs from a child.  This too will be observed by closely watching students and listening to what they say.

Students who are abused or neglected can be scarred for life.  You may be the only person who stands between them having a normal childhood and adolescence and an abnormal one.  This makes your responsibility one of the most important ones you will ever experience.

If you have any questions please feel free to call:

Bemidji Area Schools Human Resources
333-3100 ext. 31111

District School Nurse
333-3115 ext. 37209

High School Social Worker
444-1600 ext. 63310

Middle School Social Worker
333-3215 ext. 58181

Elementary School Social Worker
333-3115 ext. 37208