Editorial: Don't ignore mandatory child abuse reporting law
Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon is ticked off and we don't blame him.
The reason for McMahon's ire is the arrest of a principal and a teacher for violating the state's Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act. The 2012 law details a list of nearly 30 professionals who are required to report suspected abuse or neglect of a child.
That list of "mandatory reporters" includes most professionals in education, health care, law enforcement and social work -- people on the first line of defense because they would have frequent or special access to children.
"It's inexcusable," McMahon vented at a news conference. "School districts are either not paying attention or they appear to be flagrantly ignoring their responsibilities under the Mandated Reporter Act, which has been the law in this state for many years."
The courts will sort out the details of these recent cases, but McMahon's frustration should be a stark reminder to all people considered mandatory reporters that they must immediately call the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services' toll-free 24-hour Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-25-ABUSE if they reasonably believe a child may have been abused or neglected. DCFS will investigate.
DCFS defines abuse as mistreatment of a child under the age of 18 that can result in injury or put the child at serious risk of injury. Neglect is the failure of a parent or caretaker to meet "minimal parenting" standards for providing adequate supervision, food, clothing medical care, shelter and other basic needs.
McMahon says he is particularly upset by the recent cases because he has pushed the importance of the law for years.
In May 2013, he opted for a districtwide educational program for West Aurora District 129 instead of filing criminal charges against top school officials after a former band teacher was sentenced to 12 years in prison on a conviction of sexually assaulting two students.
McMahon said he and his office have worked to educate every superintendent in the county about the requirements.
Now, McMahon is turning up the pressure. He's encouraging school boards to hold superintendents accountable for ensuring that every employee follows the law. The voluntary compliance and educational approach is not getting through, he complained. He said other investigations are under way and more school officials could be charged.
Such reporting, he stressed, is critical in light of scandals involving USA Gymnastics, the Catholic Church and more.
It's everyone's responsibility to fight abuse and neglect, but these mandatory reporters are on the front lines -- a child's life may depend on their phone call.