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How Implicit Bias Influences Mandated Reporters

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When first stepping into your role as a mandated reporter, it’s easy to assume that most people could easily define and spot child abuse or neglect. However, bias can impact your initial judgment of a situation and influence what you report or overlook.

Biases and personal beliefs can too easily influence a mandated reporter’s decision to report. This creates disparities in reporting impacting some individuals or groups, particularly communities of color or low socioeconomic status, far more than others.

For example, the California Child Welfare Indicators Project (CCWIP) from UC Berkeley indicates disparities in how child maltreatment is reported in the State of California:

  • 108.1 allegations per 1,000 children in Black communities
  • 88 allegations per 1,000 children in Native American Communities
  • 48.3 allegations per 1,000 children in Latino communities
  • 35.1 allegations per 1,000 children in white communities
  • 18.4 allegations per 1,000 children in Asian & Pacific Islander communities

Knowing how your implicit or explicit biases can impact how you fulfill your duties as a mandated reporter is crucial.

What Is Implicit Bias?

Culture can shape our attitudes and ideas about acceptable child-rearing practices, and it can also shape our perceptions of stress, trauma, and abuse. Basing the evaluation of child abuse or neglect on your own cultural viewpoint can lead to biased reporting.

A bias is an attitude or preconception that influences how we perceive things, behave, and make decisions. Explicit bias is conscious, meaning an individual is aware of their attitude or preconceptions. Implicit bias refers to unconsciously held attitudes, sentiments, perceptions, and prejudices arising from cultural influences we encounter throughout our lives. This can make implicit bias more challenging to recognize.

Everyone has implicit bias. It’s essential to be aware of these preconceptions and address them when making decisions, particularly as a mandated reporter.

When evaluating facts and your own biases, it’s essential to consider whether what you’ve noticed is a cultural difference or a concern that the child’s not being cared for properly. As a mandated reporter, you must understand your beliefs, values, and biases and how they influence you.

Distinguishing Between Cultural Bias and Inadequate Care

To help yourself better recognize the difference between your own cultural biases and potential abuse or neglect, start by reflecting on your initial response to information. Break the information you have down into factual statements to see if you can determine how each fact is affecting the child.

Remember: mandated reporters make reports on what the child is experiencing or at substantial risk of experiencing, not what the caregiver is doing or not doing. Focusing on the child and their experiences can help determine whether your value system distorts what you believe the child may be experiencing.

Taking extra time to think through and evaluate your initial reactions can improve your decision-making. It can also help you identify circumstances where more facts are needed to warrant reasonable suspicion of abuse or neglect.

Mandated reporters should understand different variations in child-rearing patterns. This understanding helps you better address your own biases about what constitutes child abuse and neglect and avoid stereotyping families.

When evaluating a scenario, consider:

  • What is the child’s developmental level?
  • Have you seen this pattern before, and if so, how often?
  • Did anyone provide an explanation (the child, parent, or another individual), and did the explanation make sense?
  • Has the story changed over time?
  • Are there barriers related to language access or disability that should be considered?
  • How might your own racial biases or other biases affect your perspective of the situation?

Mandated reporter training can help you better understand your duties as a mandated reporter and what to look for when identifying suspected child abuse or neglect. Taking training and evaluating your own biases is vital to help you do your duty in supporting children and families.

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