We have all been there: witness to a parent/child interaction that gives you pause. Or having a child in a program share with you something that raises red flags for that child’s well being. As children’s librarians, how do we handle these situations? How can establishing clear policies and procedures about suspected abuse or neglect help us to navigate them?
Different states have varied laws regarding mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect. Some states include librarians among the professions required to report any incidents, along with teachers, doctors, and child care workers. While others do not recognize librarians as mandatory reporters, and leave the decision to report up to the individual’s discretion as a private citizen. In Oklahoma, where I live and work, every person is considered a mandatory reporter and is obligated to contact Child Welfare if we suspect that a child may be experiencing abuse or neglect (1). In other states, like Pennsylvania, public library employees who work directly with children are specifically listed as mandatory reporters (2). Lesley Mason’s 2014 ALSC blog post reviews these differences and the history of mandatory reporting in more detail, while also providing many great resources related to child welfare (3).
If we are required by law or compelled by conscience to report an incident, what information are we allowed to share with the reporting agency? How do we balance patron privacy with child welfare? With our access to patron records, are we allowed to provide information from those records when reporting or should we rely on information that we are able to gather through conversation with the child? These conflicting obligations are challenging for frontline library staff to navigate, which is why clear policies and procedures regarding the reporting of suspected abuse and neglect are vital.
Policies and procedures take the guesswork out of these situations by providing clear guidance and expectations. Policies should define and clarify all terminology, including the local laws regarding abuse and neglect reporting, and to whom these laws are applicable. The procedures should then detail what to do if abuse or neglect is suspected, including:
- what information should be provided
- how staff should obtain that information
- expectations for informing supervisors and other staff of the situation
- which local agency should be contacted to make a report
- what internal documentation is needed, such as incident reports.
If possible, legal counsel should review the policy and procedures to ensure that they are in line with all local and state laws.
These situations can be emotional and even triggering for staff. Decision-making during stressful times is difficult, especially when faced with conflicting ethics. Clear policies and procedures allow staff to act quickly in response to concerns of suspected abuse or neglect. Removing the burden of weighing patron privacy against the protection of a child’s safety will empower staff to act with confidence.
- Oklahoma Human Services, (2015) “340:2-3-33. Procedure for reporting suspected abuse, neglect, verbal abuse, caretaker misconduct, and exploitation” (accessed May 1, 2020) http://www.okdhs.org/library/policy/Pages/oac340002030033000.aspx
- PA Family Support Alliance, “Who Are Mandatory Reporters?” (accessed April 30, 2020) https://www.pa-fsa.org/Mandated-Reporters/Understanding-Mandated-Reporting/Who-are-Mandated-Reporters
- Mason, L. (2014, April 5). “Mandatory Reporting” ALSC Blog: Library Services to Special Populations and Their Caregivers. (accessed March 27, 2020) https://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2014/04/mandatory-reporting/
This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies: V. Outreach and Advocacy and VI. Administrative and Management Skills.
Today’s blog post was written by Kristin Williamson, Children’s Services Manager at the Metropolitan Library System in Oklahoma County, Oklahoma on behalf of the ALSC Managing Children’s Services Committee. She can be reached at email@example.com.