Mandated reporter expansion, training pitched to curb child abuse in Massachusetts
BOSTON >> With an eye toward protecting children from abuse, officials at two separate State House events Wednesday pitched updates to the state's mandated reporter system — a new training program for reporters and a legislative proposal that would add more personnel to their ranks.
State law charges an array of people whose jobs may put them in contact with children with reporting suspected cases of abuse or neglect to the Department of Children and Families. The list of mandated reporters includes doctors, dentists, nurses and certain other health care professionals; public and private school teachers, counselors and administrators; early education staff; social workers; clergy members; firefighters and police officers.
Foxborough officials, looking to prevent abuse cases like one that shocked their community, joined Rep. Jay Barrows at a hearing to make their case to add public employees, volunteers and all school employees to the list.
Later in the day, Attorney General Maura Healey and Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan announced a new online program intended to educate mandated reporters in recognizing signs of abuse, neglect and exploitation.
"The public may not appreciate the scope of who really is a mandated reporter in this state ... whether we're talking about teachers or substitutes or coaches even, it's an ever-evolving rotation of persons who are really charged with the most serious of responsibilities," Healey said. "Today is about giving those entrusted with serious responsibility the tools that they need to do what they need to do."
Open to mandated reporters statewide and to the general public, the free online program is available in 22 languages and accessible on phones, tablets and computers, Ryan said. The training includes "pop quiz questions," case studies and information on DCF policies.
"If you are an 11-7 nurse working at a hospital far out in the reaches of the commonwealth, you can go online at 12:30 in the morning when you have a break and take this training, so that is an important step forward," Ryan said.
During her announcement, Ryan encouraged people already trained as mandated reporters to try the new program and challenge themselves to see what they know.
In Foxborough, a local committee spent three years examining reporting requirements and developing new policies for the town after allegations surfaced in 2012 that a teacher who also served as a scout leader and coach had sexually abused dozens of boys in the 1960s and 1970s.
"We have learned in Foxborough, the hard way, that ignorance is not bliss," Rev. Bill Dudley told the Legislature's Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities.
Dudley and others from Foxborough urged lawmakers to support a home rule petition (H 4912), based on the local group's recommendations, that would designate as mandated reporters all public and private school employees in the town, paid workers and volunteers at all Foxborough child care facilities, municipal employees and "all volunteers who regularly work with children in Foxborough-based teams and organizations."
Selectman Jim DeVellis said the town is seeking to "broaden and strengthen" the existing mandated reporter network because people there "want to train everybody" to report suspected abuse.
Barrows, a Mansfield Republican, and Sen. James Timilty, a Walpole Democrat, sponsored the Foxborough bill. Barrows also filed a bill (H 4247) taking the proposed changes to the state level, which would make mandated reporters out of all state employees, employees at Massachusetts schools and child care centers, and volunteers who work with kids.
"If I'm a private citizen and I'm not a youth coach and I'm not this and I'm not that and I see something going on, don't I have a societal obligation to say, that's not right?" Barrows told the News Service. "When you put it in that context, it probably should be all of us, but you can't legislate everything, so this is just an attempt to kind of poke away at it."