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Mandated Reporting; Mandated Supporting

From: When mandated reporting does more harm than good: Tools for a new approach

A child repeatedly lashes out, withdraws or exhibits some other troubling behavior. There may be repeated bruising, fearful body language or lack of hygiene. Red flags. What do you do?

Because school staff are mandatory reporters—required by law to report suspected child abuse, maltreatment or neglect—the answer is often to immediately call child welfare authorities. But while such reporting is well-intended, mandatory reporters as well as child welfare agencies are seriously questioning whether it is appropriate in every case.

Here’s the reality: Research shows that mandatory reporting often does more harm than good. Most reports are unsubstantiated upon further investigation, and many can trigger a cascade of harmful consequences such as intrusive home inspections—even strip searches of children—and painful family separation.... But many feel ill-prepared to discern the moment at which child services are needed, and fear serious consequences if they do not report.

Recently, the idea of mandatory supporter, rather than mandatory reporter, has taken hold. Coined by JMACforFamilies, a child advocacy organization, mandatory support involves more careful consideration of alternative tools and resources to consider before escalating to the child welfare system.... Tools include collaboration, consultation and connection to school families....

Mandatory support offers a different path. Focusing on students’ well-being, it utilizes solutions including trauma-informed practices, community schools and bargaining for the common good.

Its basic tenets use preventive “healing gestures” to celebrate, comfort and inspire students; continue professional growth on implicit bias; combat stigma; support student privacy; collaborate; make caregivers the first call; consider a consultation that anonymizes the family; and share power with families by ensuring they are aware of triggers, know their rights and share their strengths as well as vulnerabilities....”

From: Mandated supporting

In 2020, a collective of students at Columbia School of Social Work partnered with social work professors and community organizations created a curriculum that transforms mandated reporting to “mandated supporting,” incorporating the importance of critically analyzing themes of power, race, oppression, & privilege. This training seeks to implement numerous alternative responses to mandated reporting that are liberatory, harm reductive, decolonial, and centers families.

Note: With respect to homeless families, many parents are concerned that if they let schools know they are homeless, their children might be taken away.

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    Linda Taylor (