Clergy as mandated reporters

In the state of New York, clergy are still not mandated reporters. That is, clergy are not mandated by law to report the physical, emotional, or sexual abuse of minors, if they become aware of such abuse. A bill currently being considered by the New York state legislature would change that state of affairs, making clergy mandated reporters. I don’t want to tell New Yorkers what to do. It’s their state, they need to figure it out themselves.

But I feel I’m lucky I’m in Massachusetts. In this state, as a clergyperson I am a mandated reporter. As a mandated reporter, I cannot be pressured by my congregation or by my denomination to suppress evidence of child abuse. As a mandated reporter, the law places great responsibility on me but it also exempts me from liability if I report in good faith but the state later finds no evidence of abuse. And because of the added responsibility of being a mandated reporter, I feel compelled to educate myself about child abuse and neglect.

Being a mandated reporter is a serious responsibility. Now that I’m back in Massachusetts, I’m using this state’s material to learn my responsibilities all over again. I read the Mass. Department of Children and Families webpage on “Warning Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect.” I also read “Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting: A Guide for Mandated Reporters.” Next, I will complete the 51A Online Mandated Reporter Training offered by Middlesex Children’s Advocacy Center. I’m taking my responsibility seriously.

Regarding the responsibility involved in being a mandated reporter, I found several of the videos on the Virtual Lab School’s “Child Abuse Prevention, Identification, and Reporting” webpage to be very helpful. There are five videos of preschool teachers talking about how they dealt with making reports as a mandated reporter, and recognizing signs of problems. These videos do not have happy storybook endings; the videos make it clear that when you make a report, it is not going to be easy, there may be real-world consequences, and sometimes you will never know what happened because of your report.

I’ve never had to report abuse myself. Once I was talking with another minister about a difficult situation we both knew about from doing denominational youth ministry together. This other minister said something about the situation, to which I replied: “You realize that as a mandated reporter you have to report that.” The other minister immediately ended the call with me and immediately called the state. That’s as close as I’ve come to making a report.

As I said, I don’t want to tell New Yorkers what to do about their laws. But honestly, I’m glad I’m in Massachusetts where clergy are mandated reporters. It makes things clear-cut for me. I know what my responsibilities are, I know what training I need to seek out, and so does my congregation and my denomination.

Additional resource: When I was in California, I came across the services of MinistrySafe, a law firm that specializes in child abuse prevention for congregations. One of the services they offer is abuse recognition training, at $10 per person. This is worth mentioning because their abuse training helps California congregations comply with the new law AB506.

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