HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut does not require college coaches to report suspected child abuse, but the scandal at Penn State has some state officials pushing to mandate they notify authorities if they think children are being harmed.
State Rep. Diana Urban plans to hold a public hearing next month to gather information about so-called mandatory reporting, which would shape legislation during the upcoming session of the General Assembly. She also wants to consider a statewide policy governing the protection of children who interact with university athletic programs, given a scandal involving an assistant basketball coach fired by Syracuse University.
“We want to know specifically what you are doing to protect the children on your campuses,” said Urban, D-North Stonington, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Select Committee on Children. “We want to be sure every single facet of this is covered, and we want to focus on adults who come into contact with children.”
At Penn State, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky has been charged with molesting 10 boys, some on campus, and two school officials have been charged with failing to properly report allegations of child sex abuse. All three say they did nothing wrong. At Syracuse, former assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine has been accused of molesting boys, including on road trips with the team. He also denies the claims and has not been charged.
In more than 40 states, coaches must report suspected abuse to police or child-protection authorities. In other states, including Pennsylvania, the protocol is for staff members of schools or other institutions to notify the person in charge where there is suspected child abuse. That superior is then legally obliged to report it to the authorities.
Under current Connecticut law, myriad occupations are required to report suspected child abuse to the state Department of Children and Families or to police. They include teachers, day care workers, clergy, doctors, social workers and coaches at elementary, middle and high schools.
While the University of Connecticut and other schools around the state are reviewing internal child protection rules, Urban and DCF Commissioner Joette Katz believe the state law should expand to cover college, university and recreational coaches.
“There is no question that it is everyone’s moral imperative to report. You don’t have to be a mandated reporter to report abuse to the department, and we do receive many reports from those who are not mandated to report,” Katz said. “Because, however, coaches on all levels and in their role as coaches have significant contact with children, we believe that this is a gap that must be addressed.”
Connecticut’s child protection agency receives about 40,000 reports of suspected child abuse each year, and about a third of those come from mandated reporters, said Gary Kleeblatt, a spokesman for the Department of Children and Families.
Paul Pendergast, the University of Connecticut’s athletic director, has said he doesn’t believe any changes are needed at his school. The use of the school’s athletic facilities is limited to student athletes, coaches and staff or by contract when a coach or anyone else runs a camp there, according to the athletic department. Any guest traveling with a team has to receive approval from the school before making the trip.
“The fact of the matter is we do have a code of conduct here for the players for the coaches in their contracts and so forth,” Pendergast said last month. “One would hope that these are two situations among the millions that go on across the wider spectrum of education, athletics, you name it. We don’t want to react in such a way that would now put measures in place that maybe don’t need to be there.”
UConn currently requires deans, directors, department heads and supervisors receiving complaints of possible sexual assault to refer them to the school’s Office of Diversity and Equity. It is drafting a new policy that would mandate most employees who receive reports of sexual assault to report them to appropriate university officials.
Some employees in departments including public safety, student activities and athletics already are required to inform police of any reported sexual assault, spokesman Mike Kirk said.
The Connecticut state university system, which includes Central, Southern, Eastern and Western Connecticut State university, also has begun reviewing how it assesses threats to children and its voluntary reporting policies to determine whether changes are needed, spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan said.
“In light of what we learned from Penn State’s experience, we are conducting a review of these protocols and procedures in order to ascertain whether they are likely to serve their intended purpose — that is, the protection of children who may be on our campuses for summer camp, field trips or similar purposes,” she said.
Urban said she wants to hear testimony about whether Connecticut should join the 18 states that require all adults to be mandatory reporters of child abuse.
“We want to know if you have that policy, do you see better results,” she said. “We want to do something quickly. We’re not sitting on this one.”
State Child Advocate Jeanne Millstein said she also would like to see the state add coaches to the reporter list, but she believes requiring all adults to be mandatory reporters would make the law unwieldy. She said Connecticut needs to do a better job in making sure those currently mandated to report understand their responsibilities under the law.
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