Abuse + neglect policy
This is First Circle’s complete Abuse and Neglect Policy. Under the law, mandated reporters are protected from liability in any civil or criminal action and from any discriminatory or retaliatory actions by an employer. If a staff member has a concern about a child or fellow educator, the first step we require is to report the concerns immediately to the Director or, in her absence, any member of First Circle Administration, with as much detail as possible. Staff are required to follow the requirements and process outlined in this policy with no exception. We provide regular in-service training to all staff on recognizing and reporting child abuse and neglect. For new staff, this is covered in the orientation.
It is the responsibility of each staff member to report any suspected abuse or neglect, including abuse by another staff member [see Mandated Reporter section below].
We are committed to each child’s physical, emotional, and psychological health and well-being. To help our staff respond to a child’s needs, we ask that parents keep us apprised of any change to their child’s health that might adversely affect them. If a parent has any difficulty caring for their child’s needs, we encourage them to ask for help. The Director can provide a confidential referral to a community resource for any parent experiencing a need for additional support.
Children are observed on a regular basis by educators and by administrative staff. If a staff member has a concern regarding a child’s basic needs, they should inform the Director and maintain a written log recording their observations. The Director will hold a conference with the parent to inform them of these concerns and to assist them in finding ways to meet those needs. The Director will document the meeting in writing for the parent and give them a list of current referral resources to assist in this process. If the parent chooses not to seek appropriate services for the child and/or neglect or abuse is suspected by the teachers, our staff must follow state law to file a report with DCF [see below].
DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
Under Massachusetts law, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is the state agency that receives all reports of suspected abuse or neglect of children under the age of 18. DCF’S primary mission is to protect children who have been abused or neglected in a family setting. DCF seeks to ensure that each child has a safe, nurturing, permanent home. The Department also provides a range of preventive services to support and strengthen families with children at risk of abuse or neglect. DCF depends on reports from professionals and other concerned individuals to learn about children who may need protection. The Department receives reports on more than 100,000 children each year. State law requires professionals whose work brings them in contact with children to notify DCF if they suspect that a child has been – or is at risk of being – abused or neglected.
Anyone may report concerns of child abuse and neglect to DCF as non-mandated reporters. However, as defined by Chapter 119, Section 51A, As defined by Chapter 119, Section 51A, any person working in an early education, preschool, or childcare is a mandated reporter, and therefore must file a report when they believe a child is being abused or neglected.
Massachusetts law requires mandated reporters to immediately make an oral or written report to DCF when, in their professional capacity, they have reasonable cause to believe that a child under the age of 18 is suffering from abuse and/or neglect. In addition to filing with the Department a mandated reporter may notify local law enforcement or the Office of the Child Advocate of any suspected abuse and/or neglect. You should report any physical or emotional injury resulting from abuse; any indication of neglect, including malnutrition; any instance in which a child is determined to be physically dependent upon an addictive drug at birth; or death as a result of abuse and/or neglect. Any mandated reporter who fails to make required oral and written reports can be punished by a fine of up to $1,000.
Under the law, mandated reporters are protected from liability in any civil or criminal action and from any discriminatory or retaliatory actions by an employer.
Under the Department of Children and Families regulations (110 CMR, section 2.00), abuse and neglect are defined as the following:
The non-accidental commission of any act by a caretaker upon a child under age 18 which causes, or creates a substantial risk of, physical or emotional injury; or constitutes a sexual offense under the laws of the Commonwealth; or any sexual contact between a caretaker and a child under the care of that individual. This definition is not dependent upon location (i.e., abuse can occur while the child is in an out-of-home or in-home setting).
Failure by a caretaker, either deliberately or through negligence or inability, to provide a child with minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision, emotional stability and growth, or other essential care; provided, however, that such inability is not due solely to inadequate economic resources or solely to the existence of a handicapping condition. This definition is not dependent upon location (i.e., neglect can occur while the child is in the home or out of the home).
Fracture of a bone, a subdural hematoma, bums, impairment of any organ, and any other such nontrivial injury; or soft tissue swelling or skin bruising, depending upon such factors as the child’s age, circumstances under which the injury occurred and the number and location of bruises; or addiction to a drug or drugs at birth; or failure to thrive, up to death.
An impairment to or disorder of the intellectual or psychological capacity of a child as evidenced by observable and substantial reduction in the child’s ability to function within a normal range of performance and behavior.
Can be a child’s parent, stepparent, guardian, or any household member entrusted with the responsibility for a child’s health or welfare. In addition, any other person entrusted with the responsibility for a child’s health or welfare, both in and out of the child’s home, regardless of age, is considered a caretaker. Examples may include relatives from outside the home, teachers or school staff in a school setting, workers at day care and childcare centers (including babysitters), foster parents, staff at a group care facility, or persons charged with caring for children in any other comparable setting.
First Circle’s procedures for staff to report concerns of abuse and/or neglect:
If you have a concern about a child, but have not witnessed abuse or neglect, you should report your concerns immediately to the Director or, in her absence, a member of First Circle’s Administration, with as much detail as possible.
The Administrator notified will assess the observations and facts that cause a staff member to believe a child has been abused or neglected. The Director will confer with other staff members involved in the care of the child in question and will review the child’s records. The Director may consult with the child’s parents. The Director will assist you in deciding whether to file a report. It is our goal to arrive at a consensus as to whether to file a report. However, this may not always be possible, and First Circle will always respect a staff member’s decision if they choose to report, and no punitive or retaliatory measures will ever be taken against the staff member.
If you witness or are told by a child of abuse or neglect by a caretaker, or you otherwise suspect abuse or neglect, you should immediately report the information to Administration, with as much detail as possible.
Any discussion with the child about the incident should be conducted by a professional with expertise in this area.
You are mandated to report such suspicions, regardless of your own relationship to the family. Either the Director or the person with the most direct contact/information must make a verbal report by phone to DCF no later than the end of the business day during which the abuse or neglect was witnessed or revealed or suspected. In a case where a child would be at imminent risk of serious injury, the report will be made within an hour after the concerns are identified. To make a report, call the DCF Area Office (see numbers below) and ask for the Protective Screening Unit.
- Arlington Area Office
- Framingham Area Office
- Brockton Area Office
After DCF has been notified, the Director may notify the parent or guardian, unless the notification will, as decided by First Circle administration, endanger the child’s safety or well-being.
The person who notified DCF is required by law to mail or fax a written report to the Department within 48 hours after making the oral report. The report should include any other information you believe might be helpful in establishing the cause of the injury and/or person responsible.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
When DCF receives a report of abuse and/or neglect, called a “51A report,” from either a mandated reporter or another concerned citizen, DCF is required to evaluate the allegations and determine the safety of the child. During DCF’s response process, all mandated reporters are required to answer the Department’s questions and provide information to assist in determining whether a child is being abused and/or neglected and in assessing the child’s safety in the household. The information provided includes:
- all identifying information you have about the child and parent or other caretaker, if known;
- the nature and extent of the suspected abuse or neglect, including any evidence or knowledge of prior injury, abuse, maltreatment, or neglect;
- the circumstances under which you first became aware of the child’s injuries, abuse, maltreatment or neglect;
- what action, if any, has been taken thus far to treat, shelter, or otherwise assist the child
Once DCF has received a report, the process is as follows:
The report is screened in or out
The purpose of the screening process is to gather sufficient information to determine whether the allegation meets the Department’s criteria for suspected abuse and/or neglect, whether there is immediate danger to the safety of a child, whether DCF involvement is warranted and how best to target the Department’s initial response. The Department begins the screening process immediately on receipt of a report. During the screening process, DCF obtains information from the person filing the report and contacts professionals involved with the family, such as doctors or teachers who may be able to provide information about the child’s condition. DCF may also contact the family if appropriate.
If the report is Screened In, it is assigned either for a Child Protective Services (CPS) Investigation or Assessment Response.
- CPS Investigation: Generally, cases of suspected sexual or serious physical abuse or severe neglect will be assigned to the CPS Investigation Response. The severity of the situation will dictate whether it requires an emergency or non-emergency investigation. The primary purpose of the Investigation Response is to determine the current safety and the potential risk to the reported child, the validity of an allegation, identification of person(s) responsible and whether DCF intervention is necessary.
- CPS Assessment Response: Generally, moderate or lower risk allegations are assigned to the CPS Assessment Response. The primary purpose of the Assessment Response is to determine if DCF involvement is necessary and to engage and support families. This response involves a review of the reported allegations, assessing safety and risk of the child, identifying family strengths and determining what, if any, supports and services are needed.
- A determination is made as to the validity of the allegation, whether the child can safely remain at home, and whether the family would benefit from continued DCF involvement. If DCF involvement continues, a Comprehensive Assessment and Service Plan are developed with the family.
- If the Department determines that a child has been sexually abused or sexually exploited, has suffered serious physical abuse and/or injury, or has died as a result of abuse and/or neglect, DCF must notify local law enforcement as well as the District Attorney, who have the authority to file criminal charges.
- The mandated reporter who filed the report will receive a copy of the decision letter that is sent to the parents or caretaker. In that letter you will be informed of the Department’s response, the determination and whether DCF is opening a case for continued DCF involvement.
If the report is Screened Out, DCF ceases their investigation, and no further action is taken.
- Begins immediately for all reports. For an emergency response, it is completed within two hours. For a non-emergency response, screening may take up to three business days as appropriate.
- Must begin within two hours and be completed within five business days of the report.
- Must begin within two business days and be completed within 15 business days of the report.
- Must begin within two business days and be completed within 15 business days of the report.
- May take up to 45 business days.
ALLEGATIONS AGAINST A STAFF MEMBER
In addition to the procedures listed above, the following shall apply to any allegation of abuse or neglect against a staff member:
- Once DCF has been notified, the Director will immediately confer with the staff member against whom the allegation has been made, and then immediately notify the Department of Early Education and Care. Whether DCF screens the allegation in or out, EEC will conduct its own investigation.
- The staff member will immediately be suspended with or without pay for a period not to exceed five (5) working days, pending investigations. While suspended with pay, the employee shall retain all benefits. No accused staff member may continue to provide direct care to children until an investigation has been completed by First Circle, EEC, DCF, and the allegation is proven to be unfounded.
- If no resolution is made within five (5) business days and a more extensive investigation is undertaken, the employee will be placed on suspension without pay indefinitely. At no time during an investigation for alleged abuse shall the accused staff member be permitted to provide direct care to children. During this time, the employee shall retain all benefits except for base pay. If the allegations are determined to be “not supported” by DCF and EEC, the employee will be reinstated with full benefits and pay.
- First Circle staff will cooperate in all investigations of abuse and neglect, including identifying parents of children currently or previously enrolled in the program, as well as allowing open communication of information with any person or agency the Department of Early Education and Care deems necessary to the investigation of the allegations and protection of children.
- No statement, oral or written, should be made by any staff member other than the Administration to any person not directly involved with the investigation. Questions from parents or other children enrolled at First Circle, other staff members, or the news media must be referred to the Administration.
- Educators are responsible for abuse and neglect if: 1) (s)he admits to causing the abuse or neglect, or 2) the educator is convicted of the abuse and neglect in a criminal proceeding, or 3) EEC determines, based on its own investigation conducted by the DCF that there is reasonable cause to believe that the educator caused the abuse and neglect while children were in their care. If the allegations against the staff member are supported by DCF and EEC, employment will be immediately terminated.