UConn case renews debate on who should have to report abuse

DCF Commissioner Joette Katz (left), Rep. Diana Urban , House chairwoman of the Children's Committee (Right)

CT Mirror

DCF Commissioner Joette Katz (left), Rep. Diana Urban , House chairwoman of the Children's Committee (Right)

The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp reported Robert Miller to the Department of Children and Families in February, a day after learning that police were investigating sexual abuse allegations that led to Miller’s dismissal as a camp volunteer and seasonal employee 21 years ago.

If the parents had told their children’s doctors, school counselors or teachers that Miller, a music professor at the University of Connecticut, had examined their sons’ naked bodies, all would have been obligated to report Miller to authorities. Children’s camps like Hole in the Wall were under no such obligation in 1992 — nor are they today.

UConn disclosed Monday that Miller, 66, a faculty member for more than 30 years, had been suspended and that the university was seeking an outside inquiry into why some of its employees had failed to notify officials after hearing several times between 2006 and 2011 about allegations that Miller had abused boys.

“There are gaping holes in who is required to report,” said Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Committee on Children. “I want [the Department of Children and Families] to be in control of these mandated reporters. I don’t want universities and camps to do their own thing. Penn State did their own thing.”

But the fallout from Penn State’s mishandling of the investigation of sexual abuse claims against Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach who was convicted of sexually abusing boys, has not led to changes in Connecticut’s laws on who must report abuse to DCF.

Since 2011 several bills that would have required all campus employees, voluntary and paid coaches and summer camp leaders to report suspicions of abuse to DCF have failed.

“Unfortunately, not a lot has changed since Penn State,” said Seth Kalichman, a UConn professor and author of “Mandated Reporting of Suspected Child Abuse: Ethics, Law & Policy.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that in 2010, a year before the Penn State case, no colleges or universities were required by state laws to report abuse. By August 2012, the department reports that four states had changed their laws to require higher education employees to report: Louisiana, Oregon, Virginia and Washington.

Urban and Joette Katz, commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, want Connecticut to be the next state to require employees of higher education institutions be mandatory reporters of child abuse.

“I want anyone who comes in contact with children to be required to report,” Urban said.

Officials at UConn and the state’s independent colleges object. UConn’s general counsel told legislators in 2012 that requiring allegations to be reported was unnecessary.

“The University believes its existing policies and practices afford appropriate protections to the younger members of the University community,” Nicole Fournier Gelston said in written testimony submitted to the Committee on Children.

A DCF spokesman said the agency could find no reports of allegations about Miller by either UConn or Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for seriously ill children, located in Ashford.

Each year, DCF receives about 46,000 reports of abuse or neglect involving children, of which about 4,200 are found to be credible and are substantiated after an investigation.

Before moving to Connecticut, Miller lived in Virginia where he taught music and directed the band at a middle school. A man has told police that when he was a 13-year-old student there, Miller groped his crotch during breathing exercises and had him and other students strip and wash their band instruments in the showers while Miller watched.

A spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Social Services said that because of confidentiality concerns, the agency would not be releasing information about whether they ever investigated any complaints or substantiated any accusations against Miller.

UConn did implement new policies in the aftermath of Penn State that require every employee to be trained on reporting such allegations to certain offices on campus.

But Kalichman, the expert from UConn on mandated reporting laws, said that alone is not enough because many people don’t have confidence that reporting the situation to DCF will help resolve the issue for the child. He also said people often are unaware that they are protected from civil claims or repercussions at work for potential damage to the organization’s reputation for reporting a suspicion that turns out to be false. State lawmakers passed a law earlier this year that boosts the fines for mandated reporters that intentionally do not report suspicion of abuse and for intimidating someone not to report.

Because so many questions surround the issue when someone is considering reporting, he said it’s likely that many incidents of sexual abuse of minors go unreported.

Kalichman said he thinks everyone should be required to report suspicions of abuse, or face a fine if it can be proven that such actions were ignored. Legislative researchers report that as of November 2011, 18 states have adopted universal reporting requirements.

“That would create a legal obligation to do the right thing,” Kalichman said. “A mandated reporter requirement can make the difference.”

Katz warned in an opinion piece in The Hartford Courant, however, that too broad a reporting requirement could harm children.

“I do not, and would not, advocate for a law that makes everyone a mandatory reporter. I take this position not because I am worried about the state Department of Children and Families’ hotline being inundated with calls,” she wrote. “Rather, I worry about the children, some of whom will be traumatized by being needlessly subjected to forensic interviews and invasive medical procedures — a form of child abuse in and of itself.”

Meanwhile, The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp has responded cautiously since UConn disclosed that Miller was under investigation for complaints that he molested four children he met as a camp volunteer or seasonal employee. The alleged incidents occurred at his home in Mansfield where the victims allege he would strip search them for ticks and would sleep in bed with some of them when they spent the night.

Because these incidents went unreported to officials for more than two decades, it is unclear if the statute of limitations has run out the clock for him to be prosecuted in Connecticut.

James Canton, the chief executive officer of the camp, who filed a written report with DCF in March, declined to be interviewed about the camp’s practices in 1992. Ryan Thompson, the camp’s spokesman, also declined to be interviewed, responding to questions only by email.

“An inquiry by UConn police on or around Feb. 21 prompted us to look back through our records and led us to report information back to UConn police and DCF simultaneously on Feb. 22,” Thompson said by email.

What was the purpose of notifying DCF nearly 21 years later?

“All allegations like these should be reported. When the current investigation began several months ago, it was unclear whether the matter was reported to the appropriate authorities in 1992. Therefore, the Camp immediately made a report to the Connecticut Department of Children and Families in February.”

The camp was represented in a meeting with a State Police detective in March by Morgan P. Rueckert, a partner at the Hartford law firm of Shipman & Goodwin. The lawyer, whose online biography lists experience in DCF investigations, promised to assist, wrote detective Scott Crevier in an affidavit.

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