Teachers, let’s talk mandatory child abuse reporting during remote learning

May 11, 2020

In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, schools across Colorado - and the nation - have transitioned to remote learning, leaving some teachers with questions about the process for child abuse reporting during the suspension of in-person instruction. While schools have been closed, calls to the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline have dropped by half. It is more important than ever for teachers to be aware of their status as mandatory reporters and how to identify possible abuse.

By law, the Colorado Children’s Code mandates the responsibilities of educators in protecting students regarding incidents of child abuse. Specifically, all district employees are required to report known or suspected child abuse incidents to the county department of human services (child protective services) or local law enforcement, including any behavior, physical appearance and/or comments that indicate whether a child’s physical and/or emotional health could be threatened. It is crucial that employees be perceptive and responsive to any suspected child abuse or neglect.

"Teachers are mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect in Colorado and were a part of the mandated professions that made up 76% of the calls made to the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline in 2019. At this time, teachers are not seeing students physically and virtual teaching has changed the school environment but it is important for them to know that their instincts are still the same," Yolanda Arredondo, Intake and Assessment Administrator for the Office of Children, Youth and Families, said. "While schools are closed, it is even more important that officials and employees of public and private schools remain informed of the signs of child abuse and neglect and call 844-CO-4-Kids should they become concerned about the safety of a child or youth. If there is an immediate threat, dial 911."

Clearly, interacting with students looks different during remote learning. Teachers should pay attention to visual clues or other hints that something may be wrong in this new context. For example, teachers might grow concerned about a student’s safety due to lack of engagement. It is important for teachers to rely on what they already know about their students when trying to identify potential safety concerns.

Here are some questions to think through with the understanding that the answers don’t necessarily mean abuse is happening:

  • Have you had communications with the parents/guardians regarding remote learning?
  • Does the family have access and tools needed to engage with remote learning?
  • Are the parents/guardians still working outside the home?
  • Do you have a safety concern regarding anyone in the home?
  • Have you had concerns about the family before this time? 
  • Have you connected with the student already on non-school related topics? This might help you determine whether this is a safety issue or a disengagement issue.

It’s important for teachers to know that they are not alone in this and should report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-844-CO-4-Kids, an easy-to-remember toll-free number available 24 hours a day, every day. If there is an immediate threat, call 9-1-1- immediately. The hotline serves as a direct, immediate and efficient route to the counties, who are responsible for accepting and responding to child abuse and neglect inquiries and reports. 

Remember, you don’t need to be sure. A concern is enough to warrant a call to the hotline and it is better to be safe than sorry - make the call.

Visit the Remote Learning + Child Abuse Reporting Resources for Teachers page to access frequently asked questions, free online mandatory reporter training, the new teacher toolkit, and other child abuse reporting resources.

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Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline
Available 24 hours a day, every day. Don't hesitate to call and get help. 
Anyone witnessing a child in a life-threatening situation should call 911 immediately.