UConn expected to expand who’s required to report child sex abuse

The after-effects of the 2011 Penn State child abuse scandal continue here, with both the University of Connecticut and state legislators examining possible policy changes regarding who must report such incidents.

UConn’s Board of Trustees plans to meet Wednesday to vote on changes to the policy.

Penn State’s assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was recently charged with sexually assaulting numerous boys. Several top officials, including Joe Paterno, the school’s longtime head coach, were fired for not reporting the incidents.

UConn President Susan Herbst said in November that both she and the police need to know if child abuse is taking place at the university. A spokesman Monday said the trustees will consider requiring UConn employees to report to top university officials when there is suspicion of abuse. He also said Herbst has been considering making this move for some time now.

In addition, several state legislators have called for a fresh look at whether it makes sense to make everyone a mandated reporter, and thus subject to penalty if they fail to report incidents of abuse.

Currently, 18 states require anyone who suspects abuse to report it to authorities, according to Seth Kalichman, a UConn professor and author of “Mandated Reporting of Suspected Child Abuse: Ethics, Law & Policy.”

“I think you’re going to see more” states making everyone mandated reporters, Kalichman told UConn Today.

However, state Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz has said this would be a bad idea.

“I take this position not because I am worried about the state Department of Children and Families’ hotline being inundated with calls… Other children could conceivably be endangered, should their cases not be handled expeditiously,” she wrote in an opinion piece in the Hartford Courant in November.

“I just ask that we exercise caution as we proceed, keeping in mind that every action — even those that are well intended — can have an unintended and adverse consequence for our children. We must act not out of our self-interest to ‘do something,’ but rather in a thoughtful and planned way.”

Few states specifically require that higher education employees — including coaches — report abuse. In Connecticut, public school coaches are mandated reporters but not college-level or youth team coaches.

“Don’t be too surprised if college professors and coaches are included in the list explicitly within the next year,” Kalichman said.

Mandated reporters who fail to report abuse they witness or suspect can receive a civil fine of up to $2,500, in addition to being required to go through training.

While Katz has acknowledged the void in requiring that all coaches report abuse, she has not yet proposed including them in her recommendations for how the state’s reporting laws need to change. Her proposed legislative updates to the law are mostly technical, such as requiring the person who failed to report to pay for their own re-training.

A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building on whether the state should expand its list of mandated reporters.