Field Instruction in Mandated Reporting Laws for Abuse and Neglect

By Dickman, Cynthia H. | Field Educator, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Field Instruction in Mandated Reporting Laws for Abuse and Neglect


Dickman, Cynthia H., Field Educator


UW Field Education Instruction

At the UW School of Social Work, each incoming student cohort was provided instruction on mandated reporting of abuse and neglect as part of the introductory course to field education. MSW students in both the full-time day program and part-time evening and weekend program were provided a 45-minute session of instruction. The BASW program also included this instruction in their Fieldwork Seminar. In addition, the UW field instructor online training, which is near completion, will include mandated reporting in its material.

The session material includes references to Washington State law regarding abuse and neglect of both children and vulnerable adults. The law provides the basic definitions of vulnerable adults and children and detailed information answering the four questions listed above. Reference to real situations provided both by the instructor and student experiences of making reports of maltreatment infuse the law with vitality not available with a cursory reading. The following are the website links to the statutes on Washington State mandated reporting of abuse and neglect:

* Vulnerable Adults: http://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=74.34

* Children: http://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=26.44

Instructional material could be arranged using parallel models for child and vulnerable adult abuse and neglect in conjunction with responses to the preceding four questions. This is the format used in the brief introductory session on mandated reporting at the UW.

The Mandated Reporter

To continue with the scenario above, Susan is panicked, thinking she may have been responsible to make a report of abuse or neglect to a child. Is Susan mandated to report, as the advanced field student suggested? Many field sites require students to sign an agreement that they will report suspected abuse or neglect of clients or patients. Washington State law does not include social service student interns in their list of mandated reporters. However, as they are studying and practicing to become professionals in social work, students might assume that they would be mandated to report. What is clear is that field instructors and their agency are liable, according to the legal doctrine of "respondeat superior," for their interns' practice (Madden & Cobb 2000). The field orientation to mandated reporting addresses the need for collaboration in reporting abuse and neglect. Students are encouraged to continue to learn from their field instructors about assessing and reporting abuse and neglect in their placement site. However, ethical dilemmas may arise with regard to agency protocols for reporting; in addition, instructor or student bias, conflicting perceptions, or supervisory directives may impede the decision to make a report. It is imperative that student social workers become familiar with their eventual professional responsibility as mandated reporters, while seeking collaborative support from colleagues and supervisors. As students, they are under the tutelage of their field instructor and university instructors. However, they will eventually assume the role of professionals, making assessments and decisions in conjunction with supervision and consultation. With regard to reporting child maltreatment, Kathryn Krase (2013) writes the following in The New Social Worker:

Especially early in professional practice, a social worker may have suspicions of child maltreatment related to a client, but not be sure if the suspicions are warranted, or whether a report to child protective services (CPS) is necessary. This is why the social worker should always talk to a supervisor prior to making a decision about reporting to CPS... In some cases, the social worker might confer with a colleague or supervisor and end up with a more troubling outcome. The colleague or supervisor, after hearing the social worker's concerns, might say that the social worker should not make a report to CPS, even if the social worker believes he/she should. …

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