Recent media coverage of Penn State’s current crisis has left many people confused about reporting child abuse or negligence. Who has an obligation to report? First, the duty to report varies from state to state. The majority of states, including Oklahoma, make it a mandatory duty to report child abuse or neglect, including suspected child abuse or child neglect. In Oklahoma, every adult falls under this legal obligation to report. There are no exceptions.
Second, it is important to know that the law that imposes this duty also protects the good-faith reporter. There can be no legal retaliation against persons who make good faith reports of child abuse or even sus-pected child abuse. The intent of the law is clear: Think first of the child and protect the child!
Knowing that we have the firm obligation to report, the next question is: How do I report? Per-haps this little summary will help:
First: Call the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) hotline: 800-522-3511.
Be prepared — identify yourself, tell them all that you know, and ask for a case number. If a reporter of abuse needs to call back, then having the case number is very helpful. How the DHS will handle the matter can vary. If they believe the child might be in imminent danger, then they may ask the reporter to call the local police or sheriff. If you make a report and are asked to call the police, then do so immediately. Even though making a report twice may seem burdensome, think first of the child and protect the child.
Once a person has reported to DHS and followed their instructions, the reporter of abuse has fulfilled his/her legal obligation. However, if the abuse involves a member of the clergy, a church employee or a church volunteer, the next step is to contact our Archdiocesan Pastoral Hotline, (405) 720-9878, and/or the Vicar General, Monsignor Edward Weisen-burger, (405) 721-5651 Ext. 139.
The Archdiocese stands ready to assist not only victims of child abuse but also those who must report abuse. Jennifer Goodrich, the archdiocesan employee who staffs the Archdiocesan Pastoral Hotline, is a licensed professional. While her primary responsibility is to assist victims who come forward to report abuse by church personnel, she is also available to provide support for the person reporting the abuse to DHS and the Archdiocese. Goodrich has access to other professionals and will arrange additional pastoral care, if requested. Any person who reports abuse or neglect has done the right thing and I encourage that person to let others help him/her. Remember in making an honest and conscientious report, you are thinking of the child and protecting the child.
The reports of abuse that we hear about with such frequency are deeply troubling. The sexual abuse of children is a serious problem in our society. I hope you will remember that the Archdiocese and its parishes have created policies and procedures to protect children. These policies and procedures are working. On Nov. 17, David Crary wrote an Associated Press story published in The Oklahoman reporting that in the U.S.A., statistical data indicates that the prevalence of child sexual abuse in the U.S.A. has dropped over the past two decades. The article attributes this to several factors such as stepped-up prosecution, better screening of people who deal regularly with children and increased public awareness and support of child-protection programs. While many of the child-protection advocates quoted ex-pressed a guarded optimism, they also note that their caseloads have not declined. All cautioned against complacency.
Our commitment to protecting children is absolutely firm, but it takes all of us to make the childprotection policies that the Church and others have put in place, work. I applaud your support of your pastor, parish facilitator, principals and teachers, DREs, catechists, youth ministers and all the other dedicated leaders and volunteers who work diligently to implement our Safe Environment Program. I ask each of you to continue this support and cooperation with their efforts.