Friday, February 9, 2018

Persnickety Reporters

What to do when they keep reporting.

I was asked if there is any way to stop school personnel from reporting minor incidents that are not an indication of children being at risk of abuse or neglect. My response, edited to remove identifying information, was:

Since DCF is not allowed to tell you or confirm your suspicions about who filed a report and since reporters do not have to answer about whether they filed a report, the response from system stakeholders in situations such as yours is often that you should be happy the system worked the way it was supposed to. That is, someone believed there was some reason to worry about one of your children and reported it to DCF. DCF inquired and came to the correct conclusion that your children are not at risk of injury from or experiencing abuse or neglect.

The mandated reporting statute makes it a crime to "knowingly and willfully file[ ] a frivolous report of child abuse or neglect." (Mass. General Laws Chapter 119, section 51A(c).) But it seems it would need to be DCF who would have to make the determination of frivilosity, since you would have no proof of who made the report. On page 17 of the DCF Protective Intake Policy (which may be found in the "Intake" section at this link, you will find the following criteria for when a report may be "screened out":

3. Screen Out
This is a determination that:
  • the report does not involve a child or the allegations are not within the Department’s mandate concerning child abuse and neglect; and/or
  • there is no indication that a child(ren) has been or may have been abused or neglected or may be at risk of being abused and/or neglected by a caregiver; and/or
  • the alleged perpetrator has been identified and was not a caregiver, and the child(ren)’s caregiver is safely protecting the child(ren) from the alleged perpetrator, unless the allegations involve sexual exploitation or human trafficking; and/or
  • the specific injury or specific situation being reported is so old that it has no bearing on the current risk to the reported or other child(ren); and/or
  • there are NO other protective concerns, and the only issue is maternal use of appropriately prescribed medication resulting in a SEN(s), AND the only substance affecting the newborn(s) was appropriately prescribed medication, AND the mother was using the medication(s) as prescribed which can be verified by a qualified medical or other provider.

It's on page 17 because there are bunches of steps and inquiries that the DCF Screener must make before they are permitted to decide that an allegation is frivolous.

You may want to start with obtaining all of your family's records from DCF. See it's records regulations, here - - about how to request those files. Those would be the first things I would need to look at to determine whether there was any readily apparent frivilosity or bad faith in the school's reporting, and it often takes quite some time to get the records from DCF.

You also might want to look through your School Committee's Policies and Procedures Manual and any staff training material to see if there are definitions and defined procedures for deciding when and how something must be reported and how incidents are to be vetted and documented. It is possible that a report could fall within DCF's definitions but not be something that Anytown Public Schools (APS) permits to be reported. And APS may have record keeping and disclosure rules that are different from the rules governing reports once they are communicated to DCF.