Kane County leaders: Child abuse prevention is 'everyone's business'
Everyone, not just mandated reporters such as doctors, nurses and teachers, should be vigilant of signs of child abuse and neglect.
"If you see something, say something. You don't have to be a mandated reporter to do the right thing," said Gloria Bunce, executive director of CASA Kane County, which provides trained volunteers to work on behalf of abused minors in the court system.
April is Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) has partnered with the Kane County state's attorney's office and Kane County Regional Office of Education to reinforce to community members and mandated reporters their responsibility to be aware of abuse and what to do when they have suspicions.
Mandated reporters, which also include police, firefighters and clergy, are required to call the Department of Children and Family Services at (800) 25-ABUSE if they have a reasonable suspicion of abuse. Failure to notify DCFS can result in a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to a year in jail.
Lori Schmidt, a Kane County assistant state's attorney and acting director of the Children's Advocacy Center, which investigates crimes against children, said child abuse is "everyone's business."
"Typically, victims know the offenders," Schmidt said. "You have to trust your gut. You should make the call if you have some type of suspicion."
Last year, the CAC investigated 330 cases of possible abuse, which is up 7 percent from 308 case investigated in 2015, according to the state's attorney's office.
Prosecutors believe the uptick is not necessarily because of an increase in the crime itself, but because of improved awareness of how to respond and report.
State's Attorney Joe McMahon noted his office isn't contacted if DCFS determines a report is unfounded.
People who notify DCFS, even if they are not mandated reporters, are immune from civil liability as long as the report was made in good faith.
McMahon added the law for mandated reporters takes precedence over any employment policy that requires a worker tell a supervisor first.
"They do not relieve a mandated reporter of his or her legal obligation to report suspected abuse," he said. "Any employment policy takes a back seat to this."
For more information about spotting signs of potential child abuse and neglect, visit casakanecounty.org.