A new law has gone into effect in Indiana that should make children here a little safer. Passed earlier this year, it requires teachers to report suspected abuse or neglect directly to the Indiana Department of Child Services or police instead of informing a school administrator first.
The good news is that legislators acted decisively to make sure the appropriate people know about potential danger to children as soon as possible. The bad news is that there wouldn't need to be a law if there had not been a problem — school administrators who sat on abuse or neglect suspicions too long before reporting them.
Not all cases are as blatant or as obvious as that of the Pike County superintendent and principal actually charged with failure to report several years ago because they were silent about suspicions involving a teacher and assistant coach accused of sending hundreds of text messages to one female minor, including several that were sexual in nature, and striking another on the back of her leg with a yardstick. But those administrators are out there, with the mistaken notion that they can handle any problem internally without embarrassing the school or its personnel.
This should be a reminder and a wake-up call for all of us.
Some states require only those who work directly with children to be reporting agents. But under Indiana law, anyone who suspects a case of child abuse or neglect must report it. This requirement is especially made known to people like teachers or welfare caseworkers, but it applies to ordinary citizens as well. And it applies not just when people think they know for certain of abuse or have some evidence. Suspicions should also be reported.
The person doing the reporting, it should be noted, is immune from civil and criminal liability, if the report is made in good faith. The “good faith” part can be subjective, but it is necessary to protect both the reporters and those who might be falsely accused.
We all must do our part to stem a growing problem. According to a new report from the Indiana Department of Child Services, there were 77 deaths from abuse or neglect in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available. That is up from 70 in 2014 and 50 in 2013. Nearly half of the deaths were homicides and a third of them were accidents.
We should do a lot better. If we do our part, we can.