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Teachers don't just impart knowledge to students. They keep children and teenagers safe. And sometimes that means recognizing and reporting signs of abuse.
Not only can teachers be the first to spot signs of child abuse, they are often legally required to report abuse to law enforcement.
Because of their frequent contact with children, teachers are often classified as mandatory reporters under state child abuse and neglect laws. Mandatory reporters can include doctors and physicians, day care workers, and school administrators -- any professional that engages in regular contact with children. These laws can vary, but in general they require teachers to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the authorities.
While some state child abuse laws list teachers specifically as mandatory reporters, many don't list mandatory reporters at all, instead requiring anyone and everyone to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Eighteen states require all people who suspect child abuse to report it: Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.
Depending on the policies and procedures put in place by the school, a teacher may have to report suspected abuse or neglect to school administrators before reporting it to outside authorities. Teachers should be familiar with their school's policies, and also be aware that institutional polices don't relieve a mandatory reporter from his or her legal responsibility to report abuse.
Just as state statutes regarding who is a mandatory reporter can vary, so too can laws regarding how to make those reports. Most states have anonymous tip lines for reporting abuse or neglect, although some states may require mandatory reporters to provide their names and contact information along with the report. However, all jurisdictions have provisions in place to maintain the confidentiality of reporters.
If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, you should report it immediately.