If you suspect a student is experiencing abuse or neglect, you must immediately report to the Department of Child Services (DCS) or local law enforcement. While this DCS-related requirement is the most well-known, there are other DCS-related mandates that every education leader should be aware of. In this blog, we cover the DCS-related requirements, including some of the more recent coming out of the Indiana General Assembly.
Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect If you’re asking yourself, “Should I report this?” … REPORT IT! In 2017, legislation passed that required all school employees, and in their individual capacity, to immediately report suspected abuse or neglect to DCS or to a local law enforcement agency. This duty is PRIOR to any discussion or notification to building principal. Additionally, this requirement is not waivable, and schools are prohibited from establishing a school policy that would restrict this duty in any way.
Reporting to Law Enforcement If you suspect other criminal implications (i.e. sexual assault, child pornography) you must report immediately to local law enforcement. It is of note that in the 2022 legislative session, the General Assembly expanded the circumstances for which an individual can be prosecuted for the crimes of child pornography and child exploitation. Suspected exposure to these crimes would trigger the duty to notify law enforcement.
Mandatory Interviews In 2021, legislation passed that specifically addressed mandatory DCS interviews in the school setting. The new provision requires a school to grant access to a DCS case worker if they present: (1) credentials verifying their employment as a case worker; AND (2) either written parental consent, a court order or exigent circumstances exist (on a DCS form). In a situation where a DCS case worker presents written parental consent for the student, the school is prohibited from keeping the written consent on the student’s file and must protect the student’s and the family’s privacy rights.
Exigent Circumstances If a case worker provides documentation and proof of “exigent circumstances,” a school is required to permit DCS to interview the child. For exigent circumstances to exist, DCS must have definite evidence that gives rise to reasonable suspicion that the child is in imminent danger of physical or sexual abuse or neglect.
CHINS With a student who is a Child In Need of Services (CHINS), the decision regarding where they attend school is made through a best interest of the child analysis. Every CHINS student is required to have a case plan and the child’s school must be invited to participate in the development of the plan. The plan must include a description and a discussion of ensuring the educational stability of the child. The development of the case plan can be a great opportunity for wrap-around-service providers to share information and collaborate to help the student. DCS is now obligated to reach out to a CHINS student’s school representative to participate in the case plan development and meetings. Think of this as the case conference committee for the CHINS student.
What is the legal lesson here? Do not mess around with DCS-related obligations. It can get you and your colleagues in hot water if you do. More importantly, compliance with and consistent practices regarding your interaction with DCS could prevent harm to your students.
This blog post is a condensed version of an article published in KGR’s monthly article for the Indiana Association of School Principals’ member newsletter. Navigating state and federal regulations can be challenging. For more information, contact the KGR Education Law and Public Policy team.