The vast majority of reports of child abuse and neglect emanate from adults outside a child’s family or neighborhood. Most calls come from so-called “mandated reporters,” who are required to disclose any concerns about child safety with protection officials. Some states classify all adults as mandated reporters, but generally, the term refers to professionals in the community such as police officers, doctors and nurses, or mental health counselors.
It is school officials that produce the most reports of abuse or neglect each year. In 2018, 20.5% of the 4.3 million maltreatment reports in the country came from school or day care workers, according to the annual “Child Maltreatment” report published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The vast majority of those reports, 90% according to federal data, did not lead to a substantiated case of abuse or neglect. The Imprint was able to obtain recent data from one state, Georgia, to assess what the educators’ contribution to maltreatment allegations looks like.
In 2018 and 2019, there were 300,168 maltreatment reports made to the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. As is the case nationally, the vast majority of these reports do not end in a confirmed victim of abuse or neglect – just 5% of these Georgia reports resulted in what’s called a substantiated allegation.
Just over 30% of Georgia’s hotline calls in that time frame were made by education or child care staff – well above the national rate of 21% for those workers. In the time between March 16 and last week, when the state school year ended, maltreatment reports from this segment of the community were all but erased.
That first week schools were closed, calls from education and child care sources dropped 84% compared with the average number from the previous two years. The comparative drop-off reached a peak of 91% the week of April 6.
So what types of maltreatment are schools reporting?
In Georgia, they supplied one third of reports falling under the state’s most frequently cited allegation: inadequate supervision. The specific definition of this charge varies from state to state, but generally refers to leaving a child unattended in an unsafe environment, or failing to watch over children because of drug use, or a mental health episode. Inadequate Supervision is the allegation associated with 64% of all hotline calls in the state.
Predictably, schools provided the majority of educational neglect, which in Georgia can occur only after a student has 10 unexcused absences and a documented effort has been made to intervene and address that without court involvement. Sixty-one percent of calls about educational neglect came from education and child care reporters.
Educators were also the source of more than half of the sort of reports that can lead to confirmed physical abuse: “lacerations, cuts or punctures,” and “bruises, welts or abrasions.” And they also supply between 20 and 30% of reports about alarming alleged sexual abuse.