In the wake of the Penn State sex abuse scandal, Connecticut officials found themselves Tuesday discussing making coaches at all levels mandatory reporters of abuse.
In Pennsylvania assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was recently charged with sexually assaulting several boys. The late-Joe Paterno, the school’s head coach, was fired for not reporting Sandusky.
In Connecticut only public school coaches are required to report abuse to the Department of Children and Families. Coaches at the university level and coaches of youth sports, outside the school setting, are not covered by Connecticut’s law.
But Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz warned a lawmakers Tuesday that broadening the definition of a mandated reporter could have implications for her agency.
Katz told lawmakers that the state needs to balance making mandatory reporting laws “consistent with the people who are responsible for working with children,” without passing a law that is unnecessarily broad.
According to Katz, DCF received 95,000 calls to its child abuse hotline last year. Of those calls, half precipitated an investigation, and half of the investigations – about 23,750 instances – resulted in legal action.
In addition, 30 percent of all the tips made last year were made by people who were not mandatory reporters.
Sen. Len Suzio, R – Meriden, said he was “totally stunned” by the volume of calls handled by DCF annually.
“The sheer volume in a state of our size just shocks me,” Suzio said.
“We’re a 24 – 7 operation and we’re short staffed like everyone else. We’re doing the best we can,” Katz said.
Rep. Al Adinolfi, R-Cheshire, said that the penalty for offenders should be reevaluated for both minors and adults who abuse children.
He related a story about a 16 year old in his district who allegedly pulled down the pants of a six year old boy.
“The 16 year old is getting a slap on the hand and some counseling,” Adinolfi said. “Maybe we should reevaluate the penalty.”
Mandatory reporters who ignore or otherwise fail to report instances of child abuse face a fine of up to $2,500.
Sen. Terry Gerratana, D -New Britain, said that she was pleased that the hearing came before the start of legislative session.
“It’s time to consider what these experts have to say then go forward with legislation from there,” Gerratana said.
Lawmakers raised questions about the process for reporting instances of child abuse and whether the law can be changed to make it easier and more encouraging for potential reporters.
Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, asked if mandatory reporters at the university level would be required to report to school officials or to DCF directly.
“I would expect them to follow the same practices and protocols as all other mandatory reporters,” Katz said.