Before We Report, Let’s Offer Support and Find Empathy

If you could say anything at all to a mandated reporter, what would you say?

Before we report, let’s offer support and find empathy. I have experienced the over-surveillance and silent judgment from mandatory reporters throughout all levels of the school system, from elementary school to high school, and even in college. This over-surveillance made me feel that my childhood experiences were out of my hands. I do not see how unmatched shoes and repeated clothing were a reportable offense when there are clothes closets and donation drives on school campuses.

So I ask, why report someone in need or in pain before offering support or trying to find understanding? You end up “othering” people and pushing the problem off onto someone else. I wish my accounting professor knew that is what he inflicted upon me by reporting my abuse. While I tried to discreetly navigate an abusive relationship, while maintaining full-time employment and enrollment status, a particular incident impacted my attendance on the first day of class. To avoid shock or judgment, I disclosed what had transpired and that I would miss class. The following day I received notice from my university of an investigation and contacts with the local authorities for reporting purposes. No safe shelter was offered, no counseling, no survivor groups to connect me
to others who have navigated and survived my situation, no support that was meaningful. That left a permanent scar on my view of mandated reporters. If you have the responsibility to observe and report, one should also have the responsibility to at least connect folks to resources. Returning to class was something that I could not bear, which resulted in poor attendance, and when I was present, lack of engagement. While I do understand the need for bystanders to intervene, I do not feel it is fair for survivors to be over-surveilled, only to ultimately be left to navigate the situation on their own.

Jas Snell, Senior Homeless Services Consultant, ICF

What is a Mandated Reporter?

A mandated reporter is a person who is legally required to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to authorities. These can include teachers, medical professionals, law enforcement, etc.

Mandated reporting laws came into effect in the 1960s, and since then have become the center of child welfare policy. These laws obligate certain professionals to report on families for any suspicion of abuse or neglect or risk facing consequences themselves. This has led to overreporting of cases – of the 4.4 million referrals received in 2019, 2 million were screened-out or did not warrant investigation.

Ultimately, mandated reporting laws do not address the root causes of why a family might enter the child welfare system – lack of resources and support – and does nothing to provide access to resources that may help a family stay together. It’s time our policymakers recognize the detrimental effects mandated reporting laws have on families and listen to the voices of young people who experience it. 

Read more Letters to Mandated Reporters from other young adults who have experienced the child welfare system below to learn more about their opinions, stories, and experiences.