Preventing Abuse and Neglect

Student Safety During Coronavirus-Related Ordered School-Building Closure

This page was originally produced 4/17/20; 
5/4/20 updates below in gray boxes.


On March 12, 2020, Ohio’s students transitioned to remote learning due to the ordered school-building closure as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Since that time, reports of child abuse and neglect declined nearly 50 percent throughout Ohio. The Ohio Department of Education and Ohio Department of Job and Family Services have collaborated to increase awareness of the need for continued assessment of families and children for safety and to promote implementation of local safety practices.

The goal of the work is to ensure student safety during this period of remote learning by empowering educators and school personnel to support families, assess student safety needs and follow mandatory reporting requirements. This webpage contains resources to help districts adapt and adjust current processes to ensure student safety within the remote learning environment. It also provides information and resources to support educators and student personnel in following mandatory reporting requirements.

When school buildings are open, districts have plans in place to assess and ensure student safety needs are met. Educators and school staff are trained annually in the warning signs of child abuse and their role as mandated reporters. Schools have student support systems, including school social workers and counselors, that can help link families to services. When safety concerns for a student are identified, school social workers and counselors can provide guidance and support to educators in filing a report with child protective services.

In remote learning environments, it may be more difficult to assess safety and detect signs of child abuse and neglect. There also may be less structured support and guidance for making a report. However, educators and school personnel still are mandated reporters.

 

Questions District Personnel Should Ask When Adapting Safety Processes to Remote Learning Environments

During the ordered school-building closure, districts and schools need to modify and adapt processes and protocols to ensure students are engaged in learning and students’ safety needs are met. Below are questions district and school personnel should consider in adapting safety plans to identify students that may be at risk of neglect and abuse.

  1. What is the policy and procedure for tracking student engagement during remote learning?
  2. What are the expectations for student engagement? How frequently do educators and staff need to have contact with students?
  3. What protocols does a teacher follow if he or she is not able to locate a student or if a student is not meeting the expectation for engagement? What process is used to contact the student and family if the teacher cannot reach a student?
  4. How are adapted processes and protocols to ensure student safety communicated to staff during a time of remote learning?
  5. Which staff can identify signs of child abuse or neglect (teachers, food service staff, school counselors, administrators, school safety personnel)? How are they being trained and prepared to identify and report signs of abuse and neglect during a time of remote learning? What resources do educators and school staff have to help them identify abuse and neglect?
  6. How are educators and staff supported if they have questions about a student’s safety and don’t know if they should call children services?
  7. How are schools and districts using their district or countywide crisis teams to identify, prevent and intervene if a child or family needs support?

 

Examples from Ohio Districts Addressing Student Safety While Providing Remote Learning

The following are examples of strategies Ohio districts are using to ensure student safety during the ordered school-building closure.

A large urban district uses a variety of strategies to ensure all students are engaged and in a safe environment. Strategies include the following:

  • A rapid response hotline is available for teachers to make referrals when a safety concern is identified.
  • A family support hotline is published on the district website and shared through communication materials sent home.
  • Weekly communication and family engagement is provided by teachers.
  • Every family participates in a virtual student/parent conference. During a virtual student/parent conference, teachers ask about the family’s needs and any struggles the family has.

Other strategies include:

  • A teacher communicates with the school counselor and administrator if he or she has not had any contact with a family after repeated attempts.
  • If a student cannot be reached, the district identifies additional staff members who may be able to connect with the family.
  • If there are suspicions of abuse or neglect, a referral should be made by the district to the local children services.
  • If there are immediate safety concerns, school personnel can contact the police department for a wellness check.


Remote Learning Interactions Offer Opportunities for Safety Assessments

During the ordered school-building closure, Ohio’s educators and school personnel are expected to engage with students and families through remote learning. Educators interact with students and their families on a regular basis through phone calls, emails, video conferencing and dropping off and picking up educational materials. In addition, food service staff engage with students and their families during food distribution. These interactions with students and families are opportunities to identify potential student safety needs.

Educators and school personnel may have a variety of experiences when engaging with students and their families that could raise concerns for abuse or neglect. Signs such as unusual or strained responses to questions, the tone of an interaction or an inability to make contact with a child or caregiver may reveal stressors or circumstances that could signal a safety concern and may require a report to child protective services.

 

Questions to Help Assess Needs and Safety Within the Home

Below are questions educators and school personnel can ask when connecting with students and families to help identify whether support is needed or a safety concern may be present. Always think of the child’s safety first. Consider the possibility that the child may not feel safe talking. Be mindful of how the child’s caregiver responds to your questions. If responses seem out of character or strained, consider contacting 1-855-OHCHILD. Please be prepared to describe how the dynamics of the call caused concern or seemed inconsistent with the answers that were given.

 

Questions to Ask Families

Q: Is now a good time to talk? If not, is there a better time for me to call?

Potential follow-up questions:

  • Is everyone OK? Is there someone I can call for you?
  • Are there any safety concerns for you or your children? Do you need help right now?

 

Q: How are things going with your child’s education at home?

  • What is going well?
  • Is your child struggling with schoolwork?
  • Do you have any concerns you would like to discuss?


Q: Is everyone able to get what they need to get by (for example, food, clothing, housing, medical care)? Have there been any problems?

Potential follow-up questions:

  • Are you able to access what you need to care for your family? What would help?
  • Who can help you? Do you have supportive family, friends or neighbors to help you and your children?


Q: What is it like for your family to be staying home without any breaks? How is everyone getting along with each other?

Potential follow-up questions:

  • How is everyone passing the time? Do you have activities you do together? Do you need ideas?
  • How are you providing downtime or “away” time for family members when needed?
  • How is everyone coping with stress? Are you finding it difficult to bounce back or manage?
  • Is anyone having a hard time? What seems to be bothering them the most? What makes it better or worse?


Q: How are things going with your child’s behavior and social or emotional health?

Potential follow-up questions:

  • Have you noticed changes in your child’s behavior? Are you concerned?
  • Who were your children connected to outside the home before the pandemic began? How are they staying in touch with those friends?
  • Does your child seem more anxious, scared or depressed?
  • Do you have social, emotional or mental health supports if needed?

 

Questions to Ask Students

Q: Tell me about how things are going at home. How are things going for you?

Potential follow-up questions:

  • Are you feeling OK?
  • Are you worried about anything?


Q: Who is taking care of you? How are they doing?

Potential follow-up questions:

  • Who makes sure you have everything you need? What do they do?
  • Where do you sleep at night? Does anyone else sleep with you? Do you sleep well?
  • Who wakes you up in the morning?
  • Who takes care of you when you get hurt? What do they do?
  • Who goes out and gets food for you? What do you like to eat? Who makes your meals? Who do you eat with?


Q: How is everyone getting along with each other? Is anyone having a hard time?

Potential follow-up questions:

  • Who lives or stays in your home (including pets)? Who visits?
  • Are you worried about anyone? Why?
  • How can you tell when someone in your home is having a hard time? What do they do? What makes them feel better?


Q: Tell me about what you do all day.

Potential follow-up questions:

  • What things do you like to do at home? What don’t you like to do?
  • Do you have responsibilities at home? What are they?

 

A printable copy of these questions can be found here.

 

Mandatory Reporting of Abuse or Neglect

During remote learning, educators and school personnel continue to be mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse or neglect. The suspicion alone of child abuse and neglect constitutes a required report. If after repeated failed attempts of reaching the student and family and if neglect or abuse is suspected, educators and school personnel should make a report to local child protective services. Educators and school personnel should follow district processes for reporting suspicions of child abuse and neglect. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services provides the following information on mandated reporting:


Outline for Mandated Reporting

Q: Who is a mandated reporter?

  • A: A mandated reporter is someone required by law to report if he or she suspects or knows child abuse if occurring. The following are mandated reporters in Ohio:
    • Attorneys
    • Audiologists
    • Child care workers
    • Children services personnel
    • Clergy
    • Coroners
    • Day care personnel
    • Dentists
    • Foster parents
    • Nurses
    • Physicians, including hospital interns and residents
    • Podiatrists
    • Psychiatrists
    • School authorities, employees and teachers
    • Social workers
    • Speech pathologists
    • Animal control officers and agents

 

Q: How is abuse or neglect reported in Ohio?

  • A: Ohioans who suspect child abuse or neglect can call the following toll-free number any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week: 1-855-OHCHILD. This line links callers directly to a children services or law enforcement office in their county. Reports can be anonymous.

 

Q: What information is needed to make a report?

  • A: The following information is needed:
  1. The name and address of the child suspected of being abused or neglected.
  2. The age of the child.
  3. The name and address of the parents or caretakers.
  4. The name of the person suspected of abusing or neglecting the child and the address, if available.
  5. The reason for suspicion of abuse or neglect.
  6. Any other information that may be helpful to the investigation.
  7. A reporter has the option of giving his or her name or reporting anonymously. Giving a name can help the investigator clarify information. The agency will not give a reporter’s name to the person suspected of abusing the child.

 

Please Note: All the above information is not needed to make a report. Those who are unsure if they have enough information to report should report anyway. Children services agencies will screen all reports to determine if there is enough information to investigate.

 

Q: What happens after a report is made?

  • A: In Ohio, after a report is made:
  1. A child protective services investigator will interview the child, family members and others as deemed appropriate.
  2. The investigator determines whether the child is being abused or is at risk for abuse.
  3. The case may be referred to local social service agencies or to juvenile, family or criminal court.
 

Q: When is a mandated reporter required to make a report?

  • A: The law requires a mandated reporter to make a report if he or she believes a reasonable person also would suspect abuse or neglect given the same circumstances. The reporter does not have to provide proof when making a report of abuse. It is not the reporter’s responsibility to conduct an investigation. In fact, questioning too many individuals regarding suspected concerns may interfere with a formal investigation.
    • A report of suspected abuse or neglect should be made even if the reporter believes it already has been reported. The reporter may have additional information that was not previously reported to the child protective services agency.

 

Q: To which child protective services agency should a report be made?

  • A: The child protective services agency to which the report should be made is determined by where the parent(s) or guardian resides. For a directory of child protective services agencies by county, click here. The law enforcement jurisdiction is determined by where the alleged abuse took place. To determine the phone number for local law enforcement, click here.

 

Q: What are the consequences for failure to report?

  • A: It is a misdemeanor criminal offense for a mandated reporter to fail to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect. For a licensed professional, failure to report could jeopardize the individual’s current licensure or potential licensure in the future. If a reporter makes a report in good faith, the reporter is immune from civil or criminal liability if complaints of intentionally providing false information are made but unfounded.

 

Q: Is the identity of a mandated reporter protected if a report is made?

  • A: Families may try to determine who made a report of suspected child abuse or neglect by asking those individuals they suspect or who may have had access to the information. However, all information on reporters of suspected child abuse or neglect are confidential pursuant to Ohio law. This information cannot be disclosed or confirmed to the family or other professionals working with the family.

Resources

The following are resources educators and school staff can use to support students and families’ well-being and identify potential child abuse, neglect and safety concerns. There also are resources to help families with virtual learning and managing potential stressors during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last Modified: 5/4/2020 4:40:00 PM