Q & A with Medina County Job and Family Services on Reporting Suspected Child Abuse

Written by Kristen Minichello

June 10, 2022

696 Children in Medina County had cases of child abuse or neglect investigated during 2021.

If you are concerned that a child is being abused or neglected, contact the Child Abuse Hotline at 330.661.0800 or 911 if there is immediate danger. All calls are anonymous and confidential.

Medina County Job and Family Services screens calls through the Child Abuse Hotline, investigates concerns, trains and certifies foster families, refers families to services, and helps families work through a case plan with the goal for children to be safe in their homes.

The Children’s Center of Medina County is a separate non-profit organization that partners with Medina County JFS to provide Child Advocacy Center Services and Family Visitation Center Services.

Below is an excerpt from an interview Kristen Minichello conducted with Mary O’Connell, Sharon Holmes, and Cindy Kollert. It has been edited for length and clarity.

 

When should you call the hotline?

If you have concerns, call. Let us be the ones who decide what gets screened in or out.

 

What information should you have when you call the hotline with a concern?

When somebody calls the hotline, one of our screeners answers. They start by asking, “who am I speaking with/” and the person calling can choose to give their information or remain anonymous. When we ask for their information it is so that if the intake worker has further questions they can call them back. The intake worker may say, “hey, I’m going to the house. Give me a little more information about what you were seeing so I know what to look for.”

When you call, you should give as much information as possible. Names and addresses are important. Names – having the correct spelling of names is really important. Our system can only do so much trying to figure out what the spelling is. So, if their name is Shaun and the person calling in spells it Shawn, we might miss a whole section of history because the name is not spelled correctly. We want to make sure names are spelled correctly or at least a date of birth so we can run it that way.

Addresses – if we don’t know where they live, then that is really hard because we don’t have a place to go to investigate what is happening.

If you know them, ages, birthdates, everything. Whatever information you have, the most you can give us is the best.  If you know if there are other kids in the home. If you are a fifth-grade teacher, you only have the fifth-grader, but maybe you know that there is a third-grade sibling and a baby in the home. If there is somebody that has already been in our system, we can check back and see that these kids are also in the house too. Somebody may have called about the third-grader but didn’t know that there was a fifth-grader too. We have to put those puzzles together.

And then the allegations or concerns. We are most interested in what has happened recently although if they start going back to like two years ago, we will document that too. What are your current concerns? What happened recently that made you call? What made you call today?

 

Can I have someone else call for me?

We do prefer that the person who has seen and witnessed the concern directly makes the call, but it is better that we get a call from anyone than not to get a call at all. So, if Cindy saw something but she’s scared to call, but she told you. It is better that you at least call because if Cindy never makes the call we won’t have any record that this concern took place. You can even say well Cindy said she was going to call but I’m just going to call anyway.

Sometimes you’ll have people in the background chiming in. Sometimes I’ll say well I hear other people in the background. If there’s something they need to say, then I’m willing to talk to them. If they don’t want to say who they are then that is fine, but you’ve got a whole bunch of information here in the background that they are trying to feed through the person on the phone.

 

What happens after the hotline gets a call?

The screener will type up the report. Every call that we get is put into our database system. All the information goes in there. They may have a history of phone calls in there that this current reporter might not be aware of or we can see wow is there a pattern here. This person called about this concern and someone else called about this other issue yesterday. There might actually be something going on even though the one issue by itself isn’t enough to open up a case until we see that there is a pattern.

We meet to discuss as a team whether it meets the criteria to open a case or not. If we do open a case, then the intake worker has to go out or make contact with the family within 24 hours. They will knock on the door and read off the list of people that live in the home, the concern that they are investigating, and see if we can address what is going on or if this is something we need to work further on.

There is a possibility that children can be removed from an initial call. We have to go our and assess the safety situation. If it rises to the level of an emergency removal, then we have to take action on that. We do not have the jurisdiction to remove children. That happens either through law enforcement who can give us custody or through a court order. The court makes the final determination on whether children are removed from their house. I think people get confused about that a lot and think I can go out and just be like, “I’m taking them.” Nope. I have to have law enforcement with me to say this is an issue and they have to go or I have to go back to the court and the court has to agree that this is an issue that the kids have to leave the house.

 

What rises to the level of an emergency removal?

It is really on a case-by-case basis. If the child has another relative – a grandma or a dad – that is appropriate and can care for them we don’t necessarily need to do an emergency removal. We could respond to an overdose where mom and boyfriend have overdosed and the two little kids are there. That could rise to the level of an emergency removal, but if an appropriate dad comes by and says these are my kids and I’m taking them and I don’t use any substances, then we wouldn’t have to do an emergency removal. It varies case by case who is surrounding the family, who is involved, and what services are in place. The same goes for situations of neglect of if there is evidence of physical abuse like marks or bruises on the child. If there is another appropriate parent or caregiver, of course we try to keep them with family if we can.

 

Will I just make things worse by calling in about my concern?

Our hope is that we are making it better because we are putting the child in a safe place if we have to remove them or we are leaving them in a place where we can work services and they are safe. Worse or better, it is hard to weigh out when really the end goal is how to keep the kids safe. We have to take whatever action to keep them safe. While a removal might be emotionally upsetting to the child and family, we are doing it to make sure that child is sleeping safely that night and is in a place where they can be cared for.

As far as how the parents respond, you never know. They can go one way or another. They may be like I got this call, I better be the best parent ever or they make go to the child and tell them they better not talk to anyone about what is happening. Usually, the investigators are pretty good at getting to the truth and figuring out the lies once kids get talking to them and become more comfortable and share things.

 

Will the person I report know it was me who called?

Calls can be anonymous. We don’t ever disclose who the caller is. Even if they try to guess, we always tell them we cannot confirm or deny. Even if the reported does choose to leave their name and number, by law, we are never allowed to release the information about the reporter. Even if we are on the stand and are asked, “Did the school call you?” our attorney will have the question struck from the record. We cannot answer it.

When we got to houses and they say, we know the school called, we literally say we do not have information about who called. The reporter has a right to remain anonymous. As a mandated reporter, you should not report anonymously because there is no documented record that you called. If you are not a mandated reporter then you can remain anonymous.

We try to type our referrals in a way that when they are read you wouldn’t know who called – to the best of our ability. We try not to put specific information that would identify the reporter in the referral. It is up to that person whether they want to say that they called or not. We won’t confirm or deny it. If the person says, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. It wasn’t me that called.” We will never confirm or deny that. We’ve had a lot of people call that say, “they told me you said that I called.” No, they told you that because they were trying to get you to confirm it yourself. Sometimes we go to a house and the person is like, “it was Sally who called. I know it was Sally. It was Sally who called, right?” And we just try to get to the allegation and skirt past all of that. We are never going to release who made the referral. And sometimes, it wasn’t even Sally. Sometimes you want to tell them, “Don’t be mad at Sally, it was Susie who called. Sally is trying to support you.” But you can’t tell them that.

 

Who is a mandated reporter?

Teachers, medical professionals, law enforcement, social workers, people working at Child Advocacy Centers are some of the people mandated to report suspected Child Abuse. (See here for complete information from the Ohio Revised Code on Reporting child abuse or neglect.) Although mandated reporter status is tied to your profession, as an ethical person and under best practices, you should still make a report when you come across a concerning situation during your personal time. There are some grey areas, but if you are ever questioning it, you should probably just report it. As a mandated reporter, you will receive a letter stating that you make the call and did your due diligence to let us know what is going on.

 

Will I get an update on what is happening with the case after I make a report?

We are not going to call and follow back up with you when you call the hotline about a concern. We aren’t going to report anything to you or give you any updates or anything like that. Whether we screen it in and open a case, or screen it out, if you call back in we’ll just ask if you have some new information you want to report. We aren’t going to let you know whether we opened up a case or didn’t open up a case.

As a mandated reporter, you would get your letter and you would know if we did or didn’t open up a case. Generally, people are not going to know that.

Even for the non-custodial parent. Tell us the information or if you want to share something. If you are saying the kids can come here and stay with me, leave your information because I can’t confirm or deny that we’ve opened a case. If you leave your contact information, we will document that too.

Once we’ve made a decision, there is confidentiality. We can no longer speak to you about what is happening unless we are looking for placement. So if you are calling because you are willing to take the kids, you can leave that information. But if you are calling to see what did the person say when we went to the house or what did the kids look like, we’re not going to share that with you. People get frustrated that they made the call and want to know how things are going, but the family has the right to confidentiality just as much as anybody else.

 

If you are concerned that a child is being abused or neglected, contact the Child Abuse Hotline at 330.661.0800 or 911 if there is immediate danger. All calls are anonymous and confidential.

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