The bruise on the girl’s arm suggested the imprint of a belt buckle. Class had not yet begun that morning. The student teacher gestured to her high school student to step inside the teacher’s office beside the classroom where she asked in private, "What is this?" The student hung her head and in tears said that it is where her dad beat her with a belt.
This student teacher whispered to her student: "You need to come with me." On the way out of the classroom, she notified her supervising teacher to take over the class when the bell rang. This was a larger school with a policeman on duty, and the SRS was notified. They "took it from there" and she returned to her classroom.
In Kansas, designated professionals who regularly work with children under 18 are required to report suspected child abuse. The statute is K.S.A. 38–1522. Those who must report include not only teachers, but nurses, dentists, optometrists, psychologists, school administrators, therapists, child care workers, social workers, firefighters, EMTs, and law enforcement officers.
The report must be made directly to the SRS, or to the SRS via a law enforcement officer. A teacher would probably by courtesy also inform the principal; indeed local school policy may require it. But the principal is not a substitute for informing Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS). In Kansas, some time ago, a principal was convicted of failing to report a suspected abuse case relayed by a teacher—he assumed he could "look into it" himself.
Only the SRS and police investigate. Investigation is not the responsibility of the teacher, principal or the other professionals listed above.
The report can be made orally and a written report may be requested. However, the report is kept confidential, although the initiator of the report might come out in trial.
What constitutes "child abuse"? K.A.R. 38-1502(b) defines physical, mental or emotional abuse or neglect as: "The infliction of physical, mental or emotional injury or causing of a deterioration of a child and may include, but shall not be limited to failing to maintain reasonable care and treatment, negligent treatment or maltreatment or exploiting a child...."
The trigger for reporting is "suspected" child abuse. In the actual case above, it was not necessary that the student teacher receive verbal affirmation from her student that she had been beat with a belt. Reasonable suspicion would have been sufficient. The law says that if you suspect, you must report. The above case is rather blatant, but symptoms may be more subtle. Scrapes and bruises are a normal part of growing up. Emotional and sexual abuse may be far less evident. And a severe elbow scrape on a happy rodeo girl who just took first place at the county fair is not suspicious at all.
Our law to protect Kansas children must rely on the commonsense and keen perceptions of the professionals who work with our children. Since there are gray areas for suspicion, the reporting law favors the side of protecting the child. All of the professionals listed above, from school administrators to teachers to EMTs, who have chosen to enter these positions of responsibility are obligated to protect our children.
"Willful and knowing failure to make a report" as required by this statute is a class B misdemeanor.
The tragic scenario unfolding in the Pennsylvania State child sex abuse scandal has caused many Kansans to ask who has responsibility for reporting child abuse.