Social workers and legal experts debated the ethical and legal issues facing mandated reporters of child neglect and re-examined reporting standards in light of the New York State Court of Appeals' decision in Nicholson v. Scoppetta at Fordham on June 14.
“The Nicholson case is an alarm bell to the entire child-services world,” said David Lansner, Esq., a partner at Lansner and Kubitschek, during the Fordham University Interdisciplinary Center for Family and Child Advocacy's forum on “Mandated Reporting of Neglect in Light of the Nicholson Decision,” in the McNally Amphitheatre.
Filed by three mothers in January 2000, the Nicholson case challenged the child welfare practices of New York City's Administration for Children's Services (ACS), which advocates say not only failed to protect but rather punished domestic violence victims and their children.
The mothers in the case were separated from their children because they had suffered domestic violence to which the children were exposed. The ACS recently settled the suit by agreeing not to remove children from battered mothers and not to charge victims of domestic violence as neglectful parents.
Lansner, who represented the plaintiff mothers in the case, encouraged mandated reporters of child abuse (a group that includes social workers, teachers, doctors and police officers) to investigate each case more thoroughly. Far too many reports of child neglect or abuse are not resolved due to a lack of credible evidence, he said. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, mandated reporters made more than half of all unsubstantiated reports of child abuse and neglect in 2003.
“[Mandated reporters] should always use their best judgment. Not every call is necessary,” said Philneia Timmons, who works for the Child Welfare Organizing Project. “The damage caused to families from a false report is irreversible.”
But, Kenneth Lau, a social worker for Children FIRST, noted that mandated reporters are required by law to report any case where there is a reasonable suspicion of neglect or abuse and that failing to report cases could be devastating to the children in potential danger.
“We are under a mandate to protect kids,” he said. “I feel like they are the most important issue here.”
The Interdisciplinary Center for Family and Child Advocacy is a joint project of the Graduate School of Social Services, Fordham Law School, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Department of Psychology. The center's mission is to promote collaboration among lawyers, social workers and psychologists in the areas of child abuse and neglect and domestic violence. The center meets this mission through its educational initiatives, community partnerships and research.