Coordination and partnership between school systems and child welfare systems is essential. Teachers, who in most states are mandatory reporters, often serve as the frontline when it comes to identifying children in their classrooms who might be suffering from abuse or neglect and filing reports with their local child welfare agencies. As a result, educators and other school staff make up the largest percentage of abuse and neglect reports, and protect countless children every year by.
But recently we’ve seen several troubling cases of schools misusing—and thus endangering—this important relationship. At the beginning of the school year, a D.C. elementary school told parents that being even 60 seconds late to pick up their children after school could result in a call to the child welfare agency. Earlier this year, schools in New Jersey and Pennsylvania threatened to report parents as neglectful if they didn’t pay off as little as $10 in unpaid lunch money. Last year, a New York charter school network allegedly filed reports of neglect and abuse as a way to pressure parents to move their children to another school.
These are inappropriate uses of the child welfare system and violations of the sacred duty educators hold to keep children in their care safe. But most importantly, these actions are putting the most vulnerable children in danger by flooding the already over-burdened child welfare system with false reports. Child welfare agencies are already overwhelmed with the task of distinguishing between cases that warrant investigation and those that do not—these actions just make it harder for agencies to focus on the children who truly need help. And when agencies do investigate, even if the accusations are unsubstantiated, there can be real and harmful consequences for children and families.
The child welfare system is meant to protect children from serious violence and trauma, and educators should use it when they see legitimately concerning cases of abuse and neglect. But bogus allegations like these burden the system, hurt children and must stop immediately.