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Until Proven (1)

I’ve written a couple of articles that have touched on the subject of reasonable persons. One exposed the inconsistencies and intimidation of Vermont’s Child Protection Registry, and showed the vagueness of the term “reasonable person.” The other discussed that there are certain crimes for which “those investigating must only prove that a ‘reasonable person’ could conclude that something may have happened.”

The particular New England state that Until Proven is drawn from uses Black’s Law Dictionary (BLD) to define “reasonable” as: “Just, proper, ordinary or usual, [fit and appropriate to the end in view]” (BLD doesn’t include the bracketed portion in the definition, though the state reference does). Reasonable persons, for our purposes, should include persons who are identified as “mandated reporters” (MR).

Instead, the culture is now one of burning down the house because of a spider.

Those recognized as MRs include healthcare providers, anyone employed within a school, camp counselors, childcare workers, clergy members, mental health professionals, police officers, social workers, and other similar positions. These people are required by state law to report anything that one could reasonably (there’s that word again) assume to be a reportable incident, such as abuse or neglect.

The term “reasonable” is open to interpretation, however, especially from workers within the Department of Children and Families (DCF), who give no latitude to MRs. School authorities have admitted that, despite verbiage included in recently-passed legislation, they are encouraged to report even those behaviors which might previously have been considered minor or even typical for a developing child.

…subjective power is given to an agency that will make their decision based on a formula, one devoid of flexible judgement or the human element.

Not that rational protection of a vulnerable population is not needed; of course it is. Instead, the culture is now one of burning down the house because of a spider. For example, a fifth grade child with a neurological disorder spontaneously kissing a teacher would not necessarily be a reason to request scrutiny of the family. However, DCF is now expecting that all behaviors such as this to be reported and thoroughly investigated.

This leads down a precarious path, one where DCF has all the power in decisions related to protection of children. Think about it: by law, MRs are required to inform DCF of incidents where neglect or abuse could reasonably be assumed. However, DCF is pushing that one step further, telling school administrators that they no longer have the discretion to decide if an incident is reportable: report all incidents without discernment; let DCF investigate and decide.

Basically, this takes sovereignty away from schools, the very people who, for the past however-may-years, have spent more waking hours with a child than the child’s own parents. Schools can no longer say, “we’ve known her for four years; she’s just a friendly child.” Instead, subjective power is given to an agency that will make their decision based on a formula, one devoid of flexible judgement or the human element.

…it’s no wonder this agency is more feared than an IRS auditor with a grudge.

This goes in the other direction as well. Take, for example, the inspiration for Until Proven: through advocacy and other professional contexts, our family has gotten to know scores of MRs over the course of more than a dozen years. We have been acquainted with the majority of these people for more than six months, and many of them for years. In all that time, not a single teacher, doctor, psychiatrist, police officer or other reasonable person has ever raised a red flag regarding me or over any concern for my family.

When I shared with an investigating agency a list of our own otherwise-reasonable persons, we ware told that our list of MRs would not be considered “reasonable.” When we asked the agency representative who they considered “reasonable,” we were told that, usually, it is any typical adult of sound mind.

I asked why, then, would no one on my list be considered reasonable. The representative told me, because our 60-some-odd MRs knew my family and me on a personal as well as a professional level, that they could no longer be considered “reasonable.” The representative said that it would be realistic to assume that any number of those people (who are required by law to report questionable incidents) would lie on my behalf about my family’s past, making them unreliable (ironically, in the same breath, the DCF associate told us that, should any of these MRs report something negative regarding my family or me, that information would be accepted without question).

Basically, DCF claims that they alone will ultimately and randomly decide who is a reasonable person (only they are, apparently), and/or whether to substantiate an incident. After learning the extent of the training that DCF staff receives, coupled with the limited educational and background requirements, it’s no wonder this agency is more feared than an IRS auditor with a grudge.

That’s another story, though.

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