I ran across a report of another teacher prosecuted for failure to make a mandated report. The news story about the jury verdict finding her guilty was not very helpful, as it simply repeated the prosecution’s charge that, “having reasonable cause to believe that a child known to her in her professional capacity was an abused child, failed to make a report.” A more recent news story, reporting on her being sentenced to probation, relayed the prosecutors’ contention that a friend of the victim told the teacher about the abuse, but the teacher “did not believe her and did not make the required call.”
It is stories such as this that underlie my recommendation to always relay any disclosure that a child or a friend or anyone else tells you directly about abuse. We do not have the right to consider the source. Even if the child telling you of the abuse is a known liar with multiple motivations to get someone in trouble, mandated reporters must relay those disclosures to child protection authorities.
Of course, not all disclosures are clear. In fact, most disclosures are indirect and ambiguous. Children tend to tell just a little and, if they don’t see any negative fallout, then tell a little more. If they do perceive a negative response, on the other hand, they often try to pull back the disclosure. They may claim that they were only joking or that you misunderstood them. Few children will give the clear, unambiguous disclosure that you hear from adults.
When you hear something ambiguous from a child, then, you need to pay attention. And add to your list of considerations not only what the child is saying, but how a prosecutor might frame it in hindsight.