The heartbreaking Netflix series The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez inspired this post. I just finished the episode that features his teacher and classmate. Although I have never lost a child from parental abuse, I’ve definitely felt the same hopelessness the teacher felt after repeatedly reporting to Child Protective Services (or whatever they call it in your state).
Every district has its own steps and procedures for mandated reporters, follow that! This post is NOT about how to report. This post is about how you can report to keep yourself, physically, financially, and legally safe.
Report, Even if You’re Unsure
There was a time I called social services to report child neglect. I was unsure if the facts that I knew would be taken seriously by CPS, but I wanted to report just in case they would. The lack of care of this child concerned me. They were being neglected. Even if CPS didn’t take it seriously (and they didn’t), I knew I would have a record of my concerns. If something serious happened to the child after he was no longer my student, I had a clear conscience. I knew I tried to let somebody know there was a problem.
Don’t ask questions to get extra details. Let the professionals do it. I know I made this mistake the very first time I had to call social services. My student was giving me so much information; it was only natural to ask more. When I told my principal, she, like the principal in Gabriel’s case, told me not to ask questions. It’s tough not to ask but don’t.
My understanding is when you ask questions, you could be interfering in the possible future investigation. And sometimes that can lead to the dismissal of a case, even if there’s abuse. If they are being abused, you don’t want to be the reason why they don’t get the help they need.
Report Anonymously as Possible
Every single time I’ve called CPS, I’ve attempted to report anonymously, but the social worker lets the parents know, even though they aren’t supposed to. Or the child will tell their parents when questioned. I no longer give my name. I say I’m a school employee; I don’t even say, teacher. Sure the parents can figure it out, but they won’t know for sure. I’m fearful of retaliation. In my mind, if they can do things to hurt their child, why wouldn’t they try to do something to me. In my opinion, there’s no real way to report anonymously but try.
Document Your Report for Your Records
When you call, make sure you document all the details to keep for your record. I recommend putting the information in a Google Doc that isn’t on your school account. Why? Because a lot of us change districts, and once you leave, you no longer have access to the document. You never know when or if you will need it. I’ve always kept the information in a notebook, but notebooks can be misplaced. Going forward, I’m using a Google Doc. Write down the time and date when you called and who took your information. If they give you a case number, write that down too.
Repeatedly Report if Necessary
If you feel that there is repeated abuse, don’t stop reporting. Unfortunately, Gabriel’s teacher repeated calls to the social worker did not save him. But it should have. Remember, you are a mandated reporter, so you have to report for each incident.
Get the Counselor Involved
Don’t go at this alone! Make sure you have support. Notify your school’s counselor immediately. Sometimes they can help in ways that a classroom teacher cannot. Once you report, there’s not much you can do, but the counselor can emotionally support the student.
I honestly believe that Gabriel’s teacher did everything she could to protect him. Although she still feels guilty, I don’t know what else she could have done. I believe that only because she reported the signs of abuse repeatedly, that it saved her from being held liable for his death. It is heartbreaking that the system failed this child.
Children dying because of abuse is rare, but let his case be a reminder that you must report all suspected abuse. We are mandated reporters, and it is our job to help keep our students safe. Don’t get yourself into legal trouble because you didn’t report.