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Reports of suspected abuse now required
New state law now in effect
Sunday, August 19, 2012
By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer
Under a new state law, professionals who work with children now are required to report any suspicion of child abuse to the Virginia Department of Social Services.
The law states that professionals must report certain injuries to children, and it provides a penalty for those who fail to report child abuse. Reports of child abuse need to be filed within 24 hours of the first notice of the questionable injury. Failure to do so can result in fines up to $1,000, according to the General Assembly’s website.
Specifically, the law requires that any “individuals associated with or employed by any public organization responsible for the care, custody, or control of children and any person employed by a public or private institution of higher education” must report certain injuries, Senate Bill 239 states.
Professionals include physicians, nurses, teachers, coaches and athletic directors.
In cases suspected of involving rape, sodomy or object sexual penetration, a person who fails to make the required report shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. No mandatory reporter is required to make a report if he or she knows that the same matter has already been reported to the local social services department, the website said.
The law took effect July 1. It comes after Jerry Sandusky, former football coach at Penn State University and the director of The Second Mile charity organization, was convicted on 45 counts of sexual abuse. In previous news reports, many people within the Penn State organization, including football coach Joe Paterno, allegedly failed to report Sandusky’s contact with the young boys.
Reports of suspected child abuse made to law enforcement, the commonwealth’s attorney’s office and the Virginia Department of Social Services will be investigated, said Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Bob Bushnell.
A report of injuries is “not an accusation, but a declaration of an observation,” Bushnell said. He added that interviews will be done to determine if anything was done wrong or there was a misunderstanding.
When a person is required to report a suspicion, it eliminates the debate over “should I or should I not” report, Bushnell said.
The mandate is satisfied if a person notifies social services, which has its own investigators, he said. Those investigators may notify police to make the reported case more widely known to authorities because the more authorities that know, the less likely it will go uninvestigated, he added.
Bushnell doesn’t feel that a report tarnishes reputations because all reports are kept private from the general public and are strictly confidential, he said. The reports are only known by the proper authorities, he added.
For YMCA staff, mandatory reporting is not new, said Brad Kinkema, executive director of the YMCA.
Staff members are trained on how to report a case of child abuse and what signs to look for before reporting. Some of the signs include unusual bruising, soiled clothing, consistently dirty, consistently hungry or unusual comments from the child. If any of those signs are seen, staff immediately reports it to a YMCA supervisor; the supervisor then calls social services to make sure that everything is transparent, Kinkema said.
That is acceptable under a provision in the Code of Virginia, according to information provided by Patricia Carter, executive director of For the Children Partners in Prevention Inc.
Kinkema doesn’t feel that the mandatory reporting turns staff into police because the staff serves as “being gatekeepers and advocates for the kids,” he said.
No one wants to be in a position where they saw signs and didn’t do anything about it until it was too late, Kinkema said.
The law also requires employees of a public or private institution of higher education to report suspicions of child abuse.
Many times, child abuse is “shrouded in secrecy,” but everyone must report it for the sake of the child, Carter said.
Children should know that “there are people that have their welfare at heart,” she added.
Recently, Carter attended a Virginia Department of Education conference at Longwood College, where a module was presented to Family Life teachers, school nurses, health and physical education teachers regarding reporting child abuse and signs to look for.
Some of the signs included the child acting withdrawn, acting out unexpectedly and being vague when asked about unexplained bruising or injuries, Carter said.
Those who report are encouraged to give their name because it will be documented that the person met his or her legal obligation to report the suspected child abuse and neglect, makes it possible for the child protective services worker to contact the person later if additional information is needed, and the worker will be able to inform the person of the outcome of their referral, according to information provided by Carter.
Based on information provided by summer interns with the Martinsville Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, some indicators of child abuse are:
• Cuts, lacerations, punctures, wounds.
• Bruises, welts, discolorations, grip marks.
• Any unexplained injury that doesn’t fit with the given explanation of the injury.
• Any injury which has not been properly cared for.
• Poor skin condition or poor skin hygiene.
• Dehydration and/or malnourishment without an illness-related cause.
Since 1990, more than 10,000 American children have died as a result of abuse, and reported child abuse has increased 134 percent since 1980, according to information provided by the summer interns.