New Missouri legislation changes school rules on reporting child abuse, neglect

State legislation from the 2013 session has changed how schools report child abuse and neglect, and requires any school personnel to make reports to the Children’s Division of Missouri Social Services through its hotline service.

Prior to the legislation, schools could designate a one “mandatory reporter” to call in suspicions of abuse. Rep. Marsha Haefer, R-St. Louis, sponsored the legislation (House Bill 505) and worked on the bill with specific interest as she is on the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children. She said for a school to have one person to report abuse is a major flaw that the new law fixes, because the mandatory reporter may choose to call or not to call in the suspected abuse. This same flaw, she added, led to the Penn State-Sandusky scandal. When news broke about the scandal, Haefer said she took a look at Missouri’s abuse reporting process and realized it was similar to that of Pennsylvania. This was, in part, the beginning of House Bill 505.

Otto Fajen, Missouri National Education Association, said in cases he is aware of, teachers or school employees would be discouraged by higher-ups to report abuse.

“The law has a clear statement that people up the chain can’t inhibit an employee,” Fajen said.

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