Connecticut has long had strict laws with regard to the reporting of potential child abuse or neglect. Mandated reporters are required to report to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) whenever the reporter has reasonable cause to suspect or believe that a child is being abused or neglected. It is therefore very important to be sure that we understand which school district employees are obligated to report suspected child abuse and neglect.
Traditionally, the school employees who come to mind when thinking about mandated reporters are teachers, principals, paraprofessionals and school counselors who have direct contact with students in the school. School districts should be aware, however, that the definition of “school employee” was changed under Connecticut law in 2011, and it now includes many other school employees not traditionally considered mandated reporters, such as school secretaries and custodians.
Connecticut General Statutes, § 17a-101 now provides that all “school employees” are mandated reporters of child abuse and/or neglect. Connecticut General Statutes § 53a-65, in turn, defines “school employee” broadly as: “[a] teacher, substitute teacher, school administrator, school superintendent, guidance counselor, psychologist, social worker, nurse, physician, school paraprofessional or coach employed by a local or regional board of education or a private elementary, middle or high school or working in a public or private elementary, middle or high school.” Moreover, the statute also includes in the definition of “school employee” “any other person who, in the performance of his or her duties, has regular contact with students and who provides services to or on behalf of students enrolled in . . . a public elementary, middle or high school, pursuant to a contract with the local or regional board of education, or . . . a private elementary, middle or high school, pursuant to a contract with the supervisory agent of such private school.”
The definition of school employee is therefore extremely broad, encompassing any individual who, in the performance of his or her duties, has regular contact with students and who provides services to those students. Pursuant to informal conversations with DCF, we understand that DCF considers the definition of school employee to include school secretaries and custodians and other school employees who are regularly in contact with students. It is important that all such school employees be aware of their legal obligations as mandated reporters and receive appropriate training in their responsibilities as required by law. A failure to report suspected child abuse or neglect or failure to make a timely report of suspected abuse is a violation of law that can lead to fines and even criminal prosecution.
Connecticut law requires that newly hired “school employees” receive mandated reporter training from DCF and then receive a refresher course every three years. Existing school employees must have received a refresher training by July 1, 2012 and then must receive refresher training every three years. Information on mandated reporter training is available on the DCF website.