Talking to an adult outside their own family can be beneficial to your teenager. Talking through difficult situations can lead to positive results. This is why students are encouraged to reach out and talk about their feelings.
School counselors, teachers, and coaches present themselves as being “judgment-free” advocates. They will encourage your teenager to talk openly about their problems, dating relationships, and interactions with their families and fellow students.
However, there is an important catch…these school counselors, teachers and coaches are all mandatory reporters. In fact, pretty much everyone who works or volunteers for a school and is directly involved with the students is a mandatory reporter.
What Do Mandatory Reporters Do?
Connecticut’s mandatory reporting laws require that everyone engaged in certain professions involved with children – such as school employees, doctors and nurses, and mental health counselors – must make a formal report whenever they receive information of abuse, neglect, or fear of imminent harm. Any comments by your teenager about these topics will be reported.
So, depending upon what your teenager tells them, their statements will be reported to school administrators, to the police, and to the state’s Department of Children & Families (“DCF”). Most teenagers have no idea that this is the case. When they find out afterwards, they are usually horrified and feel betrayed. Unfortunately, for you and your teenager, once this awful process starts, it can’t be stopped.
If a mandatory reporter fails to report an instance of abuse, neglect, or imminent risk of harm, they face criminal penalties. Since their own self-interest is at risk, mandatory reporters usually report whenever disclosures are made to them, regardless of whether the report seems credible or not. They will not call you first to try to resolve the problem. They will simply make the mandatory child protection report. You will not be informed until after the process has already started.
Sadly, this compounds everything because Connecticut’s laws do not provide any real discretion to police officers or to DCF representatives once a report is made that in any way touches on abuse, neglect, or fear of imminent harm. Arrest and investigation will be sure to follow.
As a parent, you need to discuss the issue of mandatory reporting with your children. Teens can be highly impulsive. Emotional comments made by a headstrong teenager can result in harmful intrusions into your family by both law enforcement and state agencies. Your teenager needs to realize that while teachers, counselors, and coaches can be sources of strength and sound advice, they have obligations beyond your teen’s immediate need to share their feelings. Your teenager should be cautious and highly selective in what they say.
If you still have questions about what information your teenager should discuss with a school employee, you can check out the other pages on this website.