HB 137, as proposed by Representative Bernadette Kennedy was signed into law on March 20, 2019. This bill amended Section 2151.42 of the Ohio Revised Code to make municipal and county police officers mandatory reporters of abuse and neglect.
Mandated reporters are required to make a report of suspected abuse when they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child or teenager is a victim of abuse. Every state has in our nation has statutes identifying which professionals who have frequent contact with children and teens are required to report suspected maltreatment.
Prior to this legislative victory, Ohio was the only state in the nation that didn’t include police officers on its list of mandated reporters.
Speaking as current and former foster youth, who serve as statewide leaders and community volunteers, we strongly supported this bill. Our talking points included:
- That the number one reason for children entering foster care is abuse
- How it feels to be a child or teen experiencing abuse or neglect
- The risk of prolonged abuse without intervention
- How empowering police as mandated reporters would help
- That we value our police, and recognize that some officers are taking the time to report abuse already
We were able to testify from personal experience that physical abuse comes with a feeling of powerlessness. To experience abuse without intervention gives children and teens a scary message about their personal worth and what to expect from other people.
Now that HB 137 has become state law, the next steps include trauma-informed training, mentorship and support. Training can include reminding police officers to view teenagers not as perpetrators, but as victims of abuse. Here are some possible concepts that we might include.
This next step forward is about “level setting” – getting everyone on the same page, in order to provide consistency in response to abused teens and children throughout our state. This includes a focus on Best Practices. Officers who do a good job at reporting abuse can serve as mentors and role models.
We are seeking to develop partnerships to work on next steps. We care about and deeply appreciate Ohio police officers – and that’s why we need them on our team to help push this forward. Our goal is to work together with them to develop a better safety net for vulnerable youth in Ohio.
The National Fraternal Order of Police and many other law enforcement officials supported this bill. Their support demonstrates that they view the responsibility of reporting abuse and neglect as central to their jobs — and statistics bear out that this is true. Partnering with them will enhance the relationship between law enforcement and children’s services, and further develop the safety net for vulnerable children.