Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting

WHO [Des Moines IA]
Downloaded December 17, 2004

Des Moines, December 16th, 2004 - Iowa's mandatory reporter law is more important than ever. Child sex abuse is all over Iowa headlines recently.

In Carroll, students are accusing fellow students of sexual harassment and accusing the school of failing to stop it. In the metro, Johnston youth pastor Mike Hintz is charged with sexual exploitation by a counselor for a relationship with a 17-year-old girl. In Centerville, a jury recently acquitted former teacher Tim Higbee of sexually abusing a student.

We looked into the state law designed to protect children. If your child is showing signs he or she is abused, people like teachers, doctors and counselors have to report it to the Department of Human Services (D.H.S.), but we found out there are a couple of interesting exceptions to the law.

Nancy Dewes, a Callanan Counselor says, "We are the safety net for many many kids." When you work in a school, you spend many hours of your day face-to-face with kids and their problems. That means even if students would rather keep those problems secret, it's your job as a teacher or counselor to report any suspicion of child abuse.

"Our job is to let D.H.S. know whenever we suspect something inappropriate is happening to a child, and they take it from there. We don't make decisions. I'm only a reporter," says Dewes. She is the Counselor at Callanan Middle School in Des Moines. She adds, "We might lose our licenses, so we have to follow the law to the letter."

Mandatory reporters like Nancy made the initial reports on around 75 percent of the 9,500 founded cases of child abuse last year in Iowa, but the Department of Human Services only gets involved when the alleged abuse is done by a parent, guardian, or caretaker. In the Carroll case, the alleged abuse was student against student.

"If two students were having problems in school, that's not a reportable thing for D.H.S." says Dewes. "That's a situation that needs to be resolved in the school."

Child advocates say kids too often try to keep their problems secret. That's because they're afraid of being called liars, or they want to protect their abusers. It's why the law pushes adults to stand up for them, even against their wishes.

Dewes says, "While at times you think it's the worst thing in the world that could possibly happen, maybe it's a blessing in disguise."

In the case of mike Hintz, the youth pastor in Johnston, a counselor acted as a mandatory reporter. Police say he can be considered a caretaker since he supervised the girl on church retreats.

Can teachers be considered caretakers? The law says not usually, so a mandatory reporter doesn't have to pass allegations against a teacher directly to D.H.S., but the law says schools must have a policy for handling reports of abuse by staff members.


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