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The Sun editorial: Thanks to our leaders, for looking out for the children

It is always nice to hear good news, amidst the sadness and heartache that is so often reported today. I am especially encouraged when children are looked after and supported, so I was very happy to hear that recent legislation passed by the New York Senate was one of a positive nature, with no apparent ulterior motives.

Bill S4751A will increase the ranks of mandated reporters working in schools across New York state, adding coaches, athletic directors and other personnel who work with kids in a school setting to that list.

I must confess my ignorance, because I thought that these individuals were already considered mandated reporters. I am glad that certain senators – including Buffalo’s Tim Kennedy – did not take anything for granted, but rather investigated the matter and determined that a change needed to be made.

Mandated reporters sometimes get a bad rap today; many parents dread the day in which they are asked to address a bruise that came from a tumble down the stairs, or a cut that happened with an unfortunate run-in with the family cat.

But a few moments spent with a social worker are a small price to pay, when it means that these mandated reporters are looking out for children’s safety, and hopefully catching legitimate cases of abuse.

The previous list of mandated reporters was quite extensive, and included (at the school level) teachers, guidance counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, administrators and others who held a teaching or administrative license or certificate.

Kennedy explained that coaches and athletic directors have been added to the ranks of mandated reporters because they also see children on a regular basis, and frequently become confidants for young people.

“Coaches often become a person of trust for children, and youth may turn to their coaches to confide in them,” he said. “Children may share problems they’re experiencing at home, at school or elsewhere. Understanding this, it is vital for the state to clarify the duties of coaches and school athletics personnel to report suspected child abuse and neglect. This is an important step in the right direction with our ongoing efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect across our state.”

According to the New York State Senate, approximately 700,000 children across the country become victims of abuse or neglect, every year. That number for NYS alone is 80,000. The Senate also reported that an estimated 1,570 children died from abuse and neglect, nationwide, in 2011.

The fact that those horrifying statistics could have been prevented is sad, and also provides a wake-up call for all of us.

Whether we are mandated reporters or not, we should all be keeping a watchful eye out for signs of possible neglect or abuse. I have heard law enforcement and emergency personnel say, time and time again, that if an individual suspects foul play, to report it, and to not assume that the situation will be taken care of alternatively.

It is so sad to hear about cases in which abuse has gone on for extended amounts of time, right under the noses of unsuspecting family members, teachers and friends. Children go home to households in which they know they will be hurt or neglected, but they are often afraid to say something for fear of retaliation.

Thankfully, there are systems in place to rescue children like that, and I thank Kennedy and others who are standing up for these kids and making themselves advocates for young people who have no one else.

Kennedy and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes are charging ahead with their reforms, which include adding training for child protection services workers, strengthening the involvement of mandated reporters in CPS investigations, reforming excessive corporal punishment statues, strengthening the statewide child abuse hotline, reforming protocols for interviewing children in suspected abuse cases and requiring photographic evidence to be gathered, during caseworker visits.

There can never be too may people looking out for the needs of our children.

If you see a potential sign of abuse or neglect, do something about it. The Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment is right at your fingertips. Take the time to report a potentially dangerous situation, at 1-800-342-3720, or simply call 911. You could save a child’s life.

“One child abused is enough to spark outrage, but thousands and thousands of children – that is absolutely unacceptable and utterly appalling,” Kennedy said. “New York state needs strong laws to stop child abuse, and we must continue forward with our work to end abuse and neglect.”

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