Legal Analyst: A Guidance Counselor Must Report Any Suspected Abuse Incident
Among the many developments that unfolded yesterday, Victim 1 testified that his school guidance counselor didn’t believe his reports of alleged abuse by Jerry Sandusky.
On Tuesday morning, Victim 1 tearfully explained “My mom started feeling a little weird about [Jerry Sandusky] calling me, so my mom set up an appointment with my guidance counselor. After a few hours, the guidance counselor asked if Jerry ever did anything wrong to me. I broke down and cried and said yes.” Shortly after, he testified “[The guidance counselor(s)] said that we needed to think about [reporting any incidents of abuse] – he has a heart of gold, he wouldn’t do anything like that. They didn’t believe me.” School officials ultimately did inform Children & Youth Services (CYS).
This allegation upset many people, and rightfully so. How could a guidance counselor discount a report of suspected child abuse?
I spoke to Roger Canaff (pictured above), a former special victims prosecutor and legal analyst hailing from Washington D.C, for some elaboration regarding guidance counselors’ responsibilities, the standard procedure for reporting abuse, and more.
Onward State: Have you ever heard of a case where a guidance counselor didn’t believe a potential abuse victim?
Roger Canaff: No. I have not heard of a guidance counselor who just rejects a child’s account of suspected abuse. A guidance counselor is a mandated reporter. If a student discloses a sexual incident to a guidance counselor, he or she is absolutely responsible, by law, to report that. If they don’t believe it for some reason, that does not get them out of reporting it. They’re not allowed to make that judgement. I think it’s really pathetic if they don’t believe the accusers, because very few allegations are falsified and it’s really not their place. In summary, they’re absolutely mandated reporters and their judgement about the situation has nothing to do with whether or not they have a responsibility to report.
OS: Is it possible that the guidance counselor denied Victim 1’s allegation due to Sandusky’s social status?
RC: The guidance counselor could’ve absolutely have been influenced by the gravity and celebrity of who Jerry Sandusky was.
OS: What is the typical procedure for a school guidance counselor reporting suspected child abuse
RC: If a guidance counselor meets with a student and the student discloses possible child sexual abuse, the counselor usually do a few things. First, he or she will follow that state’s procedure to report any suspected abuse and they’re going to say to the child ‘Listen what you’ve told me, by law, needs to be reported by Child Protective Services.’ Secondly, the counselor will usually ask if the potential victim is physically safe or any imminent harm. Finally, the counselor usually asks what do your caretakers know about the incident(s).
OS: Could the guidance counselor face any legal consequences if he or she did not formally report the allegations that Victim 1 disclosed?
RC: Absolutely. If the counselor discounted the report and did not record it, yes, they could be civilly liable. In most states (Roger was unsure of PA law), failure to report abuse is a misdemeanor. I would say the counselor does face both potential criminal and civil liability if the counselor just discarded the disclosure and did not report it.
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