SC law requires certain individuals to report child abuse

At the Academy of Hope's campus in Conway, Natasha Butler keeps a close eye on her students on a day-to-day basis.

"I'm here to see who is usually the first one to get dropped off in the morning," she said, "and I'm also here to see who usually gets picked up last."

As she roams the charter school's halls and classrooms, she carries the roll as principal, but she's also carrying the roll as a mandatory reporter of child abuse cases for the state.

During her faculty meetings, she reinforces that all teachers and administrators carry the same responsibility, she said.

"We like to operate under the philosophy that you can't assume people know what to do or how to do, but that's why we are in place as teachers and administrators to navigate."

Her duty as a mandatory reporter of child abuse and neglect is shared with many others in different professions in South Carolina, said Horry County Assistant Solicitor Jimmy Richardson.

"There's a long list of it, but you can see where they were targeting to get the information from the schools," said Richardson.

Along with teachers, school counselors, principals and assistant principals, the list of people who are to report all cases or possible cases of child abuse and neglect include physicians, nurses, dentist, optometrists, medical examiners, coroners, emergency medical services, allied health professionals, child care workers, foster care workers, mental health professionals, social or public assistance workers, substance abuse treatment staff, members of the clergy including Christian Science practitioners, religious healers, police enforcement officers, judges, undertakers, funeral home directors or employees, persons responsible for processing films and computer technicians.

Each of the mandatory reporters is responsible by law to report any child abuse and neglect situation directly to a local law enforcement agency or the Department of Social Services.

In the allegations against former Penn State assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, the team's now former head coach, Joe Paterno, informed his superior about the possibility Sandusky had inappropriate contact with young boys, but Paterno did not go to police or DSS.

Where a mandatory reporter should bring information can get confusing when a company or school's policy tells workers or teachers to report child abuse and neglect cases to their superiors, said Richardson.

"A lot of schools have a system set up where a principal or assistant principal says bring it to me first to discuss it," said Richardson. "I think it's fine to do that, but if nothing is done in a very short fashion then it would be incumbent upon the teacher then to go to the Department of Social Services or law enforcement agency."

Even though sometimes cases can get lost in the hierarchy, Richardson believes the law to protect children from abuse is sufficient.

"It's not so much the law. There might be a break down in the system," said Richardson. "You're telling that person, and that information never getting to the correct place. But I don't know that there can be much more done to tighten up the law. There's plenty of reporters that are out there, and it is specifically targeted to those people who come in contact with children."

Even if you're not mandated by law to report a child being abused or neglected, you have a different obligation to report it to the property authority, said Richardson.

"A moral obligation is much more encompassing than just the criminal obligation. With that, I or you couldn't see anything like that and not do something more."

A life lesson that Butler teaches to not just to her students, but everyone.

"Share it. Don't operate in isolation," she said. "Because if something greater happens, you'll say, "Wow I kind of had this thought, and I wish I would have acted on it." When it comes to children, they depend on us to advocate and to look out for them. They're children."