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Rethinking Mandated Reporting: Expert Testimony by Dr. Kathryn Krase, PhD, JD, MSW

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Testimony of Kathryn Krase, PhD, JD, MSW

to

NYS Assembly Standing Committee On Children And Families

NYS Assembly Subcommittee On Foster Care


Wednesday, September 27, 2023

This testimony was prepared to be spoken at the NYS Assembly hearing on Mandated Reporting on September 27, 2023. Unfortunately, the hearing ran late, and I was unable to stay until my time to talk. I’m recording my testimony to share with policy makers and the community. I'm offering my testimony, recorded, through YouTube and written here. You can also find the longer version of my written testimony on my Google Drive.



I’m Dr Kathryn Krase, a lawyer, social worker, researcher, educator, and mandated reporting expert. As a NYSED certified provider, I’ve trained tens of thousands of reporters on their role while recognizing the harms caused by the policy to the communities most impacted by the practice. NYS is the only state I know of that requires certain mandated reporters to receive training. Please note that the training is 2 hours long, and generally just once in a lifetime. A minority of mandated reporters actually get the OCFS online training. Most get training from providers like me, and trainers in their schools and hospital systems.


We can’t train and report ourselves to child safety. Mandated reporting is a policy for a different time. Now is not the time for pragmatic adjustments; we need radical change.


Mandated Reporting Simply Misses its Mark

Mandated reporting was adopted so abuse could be identified, and injury and death of children could be prevented. Contrary to the goals of the initial policy, the system is overwhelmed by neglect reports,The original state and federal legislative intent was to NOT include neglect in the mandate because of concerns for bias against poor families and communities of color.


Mandated reporting hurts the communities that need the most support. Implicit and explicit bias, as well as social distance of reporters from the communities they serve, results in low-income families, especially in BIPOC communities, being targeted for surveillance and punishment. Schools and hospitals, in particular, are not seen as community resources, there to help and serve, but as epicenters of mistrust, disruption, and family surveillance.


When I became a social worker, I didn’t understand this perspective. As an upper middle class, highly educated, White girl from Brooklyn public schools, I live in a bubble of privilege. As a mother of a White 15 year old boy, I am conscious of the differential treatment I receive. Drug tested without my consent during my high risk pregnancy, I was told not to worry; if my test came back positive, they would work with me, and not report me. When my son is injured, I don’t fear that the professionals assessing him will wonder what I did to him. At parent teacher conferences, my son’s challenges are presented as obstacles we can surmount together, as a team. But, I’ve met thousands of parents and children, who don’t look like me, who don’t have the financial resources I have, and thus have a very different experience in those spaces. AND, I’ve trained thousands of those professionals they interact with.


We can’t train our way out of the problems of mandated reporting. But, we definitely trained ourselves into them.


Mandated reporters have long heard “if you’re concerned, just report it”.“Reports don’t hurt families”. “If you don’t report, you'll lose your license and your job, and be arrested”..


The new OCFS training fills some gaps, finally centering reporters on the concept that: “You can support a family without having to report a family”. This is a big change, but not big enough. The requirement to report, and the fear of retaliation for failing to do so, continue to hamper the ability of professionals to truly center their work on helping children and families.


Let Professionals Do Their Thing

Mandated reporting impedes professional autonomy. We entrust professionals all the time to make decisions about the care of our bodies, minds, and lives. They use their knowledge and skills to determine difficult diagnoses, and outline complicated treatment and intervention plans. But, if they have “reasonable suspicion of child abuse or maltreatment” we require them to make a report, even if they don’t think the report will make a child safer.


Mandated reporting hinders the professional’s ability to establish and maintain a therapeutic alliance with their clients. We tell our clients to tell us anything; it’s confidential; share everything, so we can help.Then, we say we can’t always keep information private. As a result, clients keep important information from us, making it harder to help the families that need us.


Mandated reporting is unnecessary. Many reporters have a legal and ethical obligation to breach confidentiality to protect someone from imminent, identifiable future harm. With most mandated reports, the harm has either already occurred, or is at risk of occurring in the future. In the first instance, the report can’t stop the harm, because the harm already exists. In the second instance, the report may, or may not impact the risk of future occurrence of harm. Instead of mandated reporting, we could rely on professionals to report when necessary to prevent serious and foreseeable harm, and instead provide support and resources to reduce the risk.


We don’t require professionals to report suspicions of all forms of harm. New York mental health professionals are NOT required to call the police every time a client expresses a suicidal ideation. Instead, they have a duty to protect their clients, and if they fail in that duty, they can be held liable. They evaluate credibility, and intervene as necessary to prevent harm. Why can’t we trust professionals to do the same with concerns for child abuse and maltreatment?


We don’t need more mandated reporters. We need fewer. My research finds that states with universal reporting of all adults have more of the problems that we’re trying to address here.


We need a new policy for now.

Most mandated reporters accept the policy as normal. A growing proportion of new professionals view the role not just with skepticism, but disdain, ultimately challenging the long standard system. These new voices are the future of our professions and our communities, and I support their leadership towards change.


I ask the legislature to use transformative policy power to protect children and support families through universal efforts, like minimum basic income. Ultimately, I implore you to abolish the mandate to report suspicions of child abuse and maltreatment. Amplifying the wise words of Joyce MacMillan: New York’s families need supporting, not reporting.


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