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The grace and courage of mandatory reporting

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While going through a stroll in your neighborhood, you notice a home has caught fire and you hear a child’s screams. Would you not try to retrieve the child from the home if you could do so safely, or at least call the fire department? Would you not respond to try and save that child?

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I think, if asked, we would all respond positively to wanting to protect a child from any harm. And yet, we hesitate when it comes to reporting child abuse.

In fact, when cases of abuse have been disclosed, we often hear from others that they thought something inappropriate was going on. Why didn’t they say something?

To be sure it is a difficult situation. People are easily paralyzed by the “What ifs”: What if I’m wrong? What if I get in trouble? What if they find out I was the one who reported them? What if the upheaval sure to follow is too difficult to bear?

Yet the deciding factor should be the response to a different question: What is in the best interest of the child?

In Florida, all adults are mandatory reporters. Additionally, there are professionally mandated reporters that include, but are not limited to, professional child care workers, teachers and school officials. The only difference is that professionally mandated reporters cannot do so anonymously. Also, if the report is made “in good faith,” you will not get in trouble.

So we know by law, and even in our heart-of-hearts, that we should report abuse or even the suspicion of abuse. And yet the disconnect remains.

This was recognized by Virtus National when they recently re-edited the videos in their child abuse awareness and prevention program, “Protecting God’s Children.” To address this reluctance, they added visual scenarios that depicted observed inappropriate behavior and the reporting of such behavior to a supervisor. In this way, participants are told not only what and when to report but are also shown how to do so.

Still, I realize this is a very difficult decision. How does one deal with the reaction of those affected by our efforts to protect children? Because 89 percent of abuse is committed by either a family member (29 percent) or someone the child knows and trusts (60 percent), it means the one doing the reporting has some kind of relationship with the abuser.

I was reminded of this at a recent Virtus training session, when a participant shared that she had been abused as a child. She told us it is hard to tell someone when the abuser is sitting across the dinner table from you every night.

During this Easter season, convinced that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, let us act as he would, and summon the courage needed to make the hard choice and report abuse.

Because when it comes to child abuse, having the courage to do the right thing, as Dr. David Finkelhor states in the Virtus videos, “may save a child from terrible torment.”

The children and vulnerable adults in our community are relying on us to do just that.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

Comments from readers

Deacon Phillip Tran - 04/18/2015 09:28 AM
Mandatory reporting definitely does sound like an extremely challenging issue, but is an issue that every person, particularly anyone around minors, should be aware of. I think the primary benefit of Virtus training lies in the benefit it provides to those who are not familiar with the issues to see the signs and give concrete steps to take action.
Lisa Pinto - 04/18/2015 04:21 AM
Jan, thank you for constantly challenging us to keep the protection of children at the forefront. Being aware of our responsibilities as mandatory reporters clearly drives home the fact that the State itself has established strict protections on something we in the Church hold as sacred -- the dignity of the child--and therefore supports our mission to protect and to heal. Thank you, Jan!
Deacon Bryan Garcia - 04/17/2015 11:46 PM
Great article! Bringing awareness to people!
Katy Dunn - 04/17/2015 07:42 PM
A very good article for all to read. I read it online but I hope it goes in the Florida Catholic also. Glad to see Vertus is going strong .
Sister Lidia Lidia Valli - 04/15/2015 04:23 PM
Thank you for the informational article. It is difficult but it is necessary and the Virtus program helps us to be more knowledgeable and pro-active.
Barbara Higgins - 04/14/2015 10:29 AM
Excellent article! Unfortunately, the reason more adults don't speak up is not only the fear of being wrong, but the repercussions that follow. As the article states, it is all based on fear. Fear forced Peter to deny Christ three times... fear is what made the apostles hide... fear is what caused our Lord to die on a cross... we need to overcome this fear and protect these children.
Christine A. Williamson - 04/13/2015 01:31 PM
Thank you for reminding me of the responsibility that all adults have in protecting the most vunerable of our world, our precious children.
Fran Ganim - 04/13/2015 01:19 PM
Well said.
Deacon Michael Plummer - 04/13/2015 11:57 AM
On the very rare occasion when I have had to make a report, I have always found the person on the other end to be friendly and highly professional. This makes a difficult task much easier.
Lisa Dodge - 04/13/2015 11:41 AM
I loved this article, it is so true. So many times we come across a situation that we feel is wrong and we look the other way. I feel that this is wrong and we should ask God< "What should I do" and there is always a sign to show right from wrong. Go with your gut! Lets Save our Children.
Elizabeth Louie - 04/13/2015 11:28 AM
Excellent article. So unsettling and yet so necessary to report suspicious behavior. Great job.
Dr. Carlos D. Coton - 04/13/2015 11:26 AM
The anecdote in this writing resonates with some of my own experiences. As a Virtus facilitator myself, there is nothing more challenging than having a victim in the group and having them share their experiences. It is sometimes difficult to bring the session back into focus because the real life experience is so profound. The "abuser across the table" hit a chord and I join the Easter season campaign to encourage one and all to report abuse. I thank Jan Rayburn for the enlightening piece.

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