A group of state legislators proposed a bill last week that would require, if approved and signed into law, that college coaches, graduate assistants, professors and college administrators be added to the list of people required to report suspected child abuse.
New York state law now requires certain people, many of them professionals such as doctors, teachers and nurses, to report suspected cases of child abuse or maltreatment.
The so-called mandated reporters must call the state’s Child Abuse Hotline and follow up with a written report when they have a reasonable cause to suspect child abuse, according to the state’s Office of Children and Family Services.
The hotline received 310,000 calls last year, generating 182,500 reports to local counties where the alleged abuse occurred. Some 33 percent of these reports eventually indicated that child abuse or maltreatment had occurred.
Reporting the sexual abuse of a child, a person under the age of 18, became a major issue of discussion and debate after former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was indicted on child sexual abuse allegations dating back to the 1990s.
When Mike McQueery, then a graduate assistant, witnessed Sandusky allegedly raping a child in 2002 and reported it to head coach Joe Paterno, did he report it correctly to the proper authorities? This is a question being asked across the nation.
“We encourage everyone to call if they reasonably suspect child abuse or maltreatment,” said Patricia Cantiello, a spokeswoman for the Office of Children and Family Services. “But mandated reporters are required by law to call.”
Assemblymen James Tedisco, R-Glenville, and George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, were joined by state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, and others in introducing the College Coaches and Professionals Reporting Act bill. The legislation would add college coaches, athletic directors, professors, graduate assistants and college presidents to the list of mandated reporters of child abuse.
The Child Abuse Hotline (800-342-3720) is operated by the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment at an undisclosed location.
Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy III said the mandated reporting system works, especially in school settings.
“Oftentimes that’s where the student feels the safest,” Murphy said. “They have a trust relationship [with a teacher or counselor].”
Murphy said the mandatory reporter system also takes away feelings of guilt by a teacher or other professional about reporting child abuse.
“Some might feel bad about reporting [an abuse allegation],” Murphy said. “Sometimes you aren’t sure the allegations you are reporting are true. This law takes that feeling away and says you must report.”
He said the teacher, for example, understands they have a job to do. “There are no feelings of guilt,” Murphy said.
Child protective services specialists answer the hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When a report is taken, it is immediately transmitted to the appropriate county social services department or law enforcement agency.
County social services departments include a staff of child welfare case workers who pursue and investigate the reports they receive from the state. If the alleged abuser is not a parent, guardian or other person legally responsible for the child, such as a child care provider, the information will be given to the local police department, Cantiello said.
More than half of the accepted reports of child abuse or maltreatment are made by mandated reporters, she said. Information regarding crimes or immediate threats to a child’s health and safety by persons not defined as legally responsible for the child are immediately referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency by the hotline specialists.
The list of mandated reporters — professionals who are specially equipped to perform the role of reporter of child abuse and maltreatment — is long, with more than 50 titles.
The list includes doctors, dentists, medical interns, psychologists, social workers, nurses, emergency medical technicians, directors of children’s overnight camps, summer day camps or traveling summer day camps, day care center workers, substance abuse counselors, police officers and other law enforcement officials. For the full list, see the Office of Child and Family Services website at www.ocfs.state.ny.us.
Even though college coaches, professors and administrators are not mandatory reporters, state officials note that there are often mandated reporters on college and university campuses because of the professional licenses they hold. These college and university professionals include physicians employed by the college, registered physician assistants and registered nurses, as well as psychologists, social workers and mental health professionals employed by the college or university.
Any worker at a day care center located at a college or university is also a mandated reporter, according to the Office of Child and Family Services.
Jeffrey Segrave, former dean of special programs at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs and a longtime college tennis coach, said he thinks college coaches should be added to the mandatory reporter list. Segrave said the coaches of college teams often have “very special and close relationships” with student-athletes.
“You get to know them at their most vulnerable, you get to know their parents and friends,” Segrave said. “They often confide in you.”
He said there are “very good reasons to have coaches in these mandatory situations.”
He said as dean of special programs he was obliged to report sexual abuse allegations to the human resources officials as part of Skidmore College’s institutional reporting regulations. He said counselors in the college’s summer programs are required by the college to report any sexual abuse allegations to the head counselor.
During his five years as dean, Segrave said the issue with the summer program came up once and a camp counselor was removed from their position.
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Categories: Schenectady County