JH - Child Abuse and Neglect
Child abuse and neglect, as defined by Maine statute, “means the physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child under the age of 18 years of age by a person who is responsible for the child’s welfare under circumstances which indicate that the child’s health or welfare is harmed or threatened thereby.” School officials are mandated to report child abuse and neglect to the Department of Human Services. 22 MRSA 4011 (1).
When any employee of the Falmouth School Department has reason to suspect that any child enrolled in the school may be a victim of child abuse or neglect he or she will immediately notify the school principal, guidance counselor, social worker, or other person designated by the principal. Upon receipt of a verbal report, the school principal, or designee, will immediately report by telephone to the Department of Human Services. A verbal report to the Superintendent shall be followed by a written report prepared by the principal on the next working day. Any report shall include the following information if within the knowledge of the person reporting:
The names and addresses of the child and his/her parents or other persons responsible for his/her care or custody if known;
The child’s age and sex;
The nature and extent of the child’s physical injuries, if any;
A description of any sexual abuse or neglect;
Any other information that the person making the report believes may be helpful in the furtherance of the safety and welfare of the child.
The principal shall notify the initiator of the report when an investigation is being conducted and when the case is closed as an invalid referral. The principal shall attempt to keep the initiator informed as to the progress of the case. However, the Department of Human Services has the option of, but is not obligated, to disclose any relevant confidential information to educators. 22 MRSA 4008 (2) (E). School personnel will cooperate with the Department of Human Services investigation by providing pertinent information and personal observation which is necessary for an appropriate assessment of the child’s welfare. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act establishes rules governing the release of information from education records.
The Act does not restrict a teacher or other school personnel from making a report based on his or her personal knowledge or observation. A person participating in good faith in reporting under this child abuse and neglect policy is immune from any criminal or civil liability for the act of reporting or participating in the investigation or proceeding.
The Department is mandated to investigate child abuse and neglect reports. 22 MRSA 4004(2)(B). The statute also states that the Department may interview a child without prior notification to the parent when the Department has reasonable grounds to believe that notice to the child’s parent would increase the threat of serious harm to the child or another person. In addition, The Department may conduct one interview without parental notification when the child contacts the Department or a person providing services puts the child in contact with the Department of Human Services. 22 MRSA 4021(3)(A). In many cases, the person providing services to the child is a teacher, school nurse, or school social worker. Since the statute authorizes the Department to interview a child without notifying the parent or custodian, it is logical to conclude the school personnel do not have a right to insist on presence at the interview. While DHS caseworkers may, under optional disclosure, inform the school what authority they are interviewing the child under, DHS caseworkers do not have to provide the school with any proof or signed statement from the parent. The statute permits the interview to take place at school and mandates that the school officials shall permit the Department to meet with and interview the child during school hours, if the interview is necessary to carry out the Department’s duties. 22 MRSA 4021(3)(B) & (C). The statute does not require or even mention that school officials are to be present at the interview.
The Child and Family Services and Child Protection Act provides that “all department records which contain personally identifying information and are created or obtained in connection with the department’s child protective activities. . . are confidential” and may only be released under conditions stated in the statute. 22 MRSA 4008(1). The Department has the option of disclosing relevant confidential information to educators. 22 MRSA 4008 (2)(E). Thus school personnel cannot force disclosure of confidential information by insisting on sitting in on an interview of a child by the Department. The only mandatory disclosure of information regarding education personnel states that the Department shall disclose relevant information in the records to the Commissioner of Education when the information concerns a teacher or other school personnel. 22 MRSA 4008 (3)(F).
Under Maine statute, all records and reports concerning child abuse and neglect are confidential and subject to release only under the specific guidelines of the Student Records Management Policy (JO). Persons who permit unauthorized dissemination of such records are deemed guilty of a Class E crime.
School personnel who are directly involved with the education or supervision of a child who is the subject of a report are authorized to give and receive information necessary for the planning and treatment of the child. Teachers who are in daily contact with the child are an important part of the treatment team and should cooperate with the Department of Human Services Child Protective worker in the conduct of the treatment plan.
Each case of child abuse in the Falmouth School System should be treated in a highly confidential manner by all school employees.
Legal Reference: 22 MRSA SEC. 4041
Adopted: June 18, 2001