Georgia’s child abuse registry can have unintended consequences for teachers
She was an experienced special education teacher, so this moment was not unfamiliar to her. One of her students didn’t want to do the work under way by the rest of the class, and she followed a technique from her training: “Tell. Show. Do.”
But this commonly used technique was misinterpreted by a non-professional observing the situation. False claims were asserted, and this well-respected teacher found herself reported to the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS).
Alleged substantiation of abuse by a DFCS’ worker automatically placed her on Georgia’s Child Abuse Registry.
“A lot of teachers aren’t aware that Georgia has a child abuse registry now,” says Bettina Davies, an attorney at Cauthorn Nohr & Owen and a network attorney for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. “You get placed on the child abuse registry automatically when a DFCS worker contends that an allegation of abuse is substantiated, before a hearing is ever held on the matter.,.”
That means many Georgia teachers have already landed on the child abuse registry since it was launched in July 2016. Created by legislation and signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal, the registry website describes it as a compilation of “all substantiated cases of abuse and neglect.”
But many teachers, such as the special education teacher with the reluctant student, are placed on this registry without due process.
Here are three lessons for every Georgia teacher:
• You are at risk any time you talk to a DFCS representative. If a DFCS representative approaches you with a comment as simple as “We just need to wrap up this case,” you must first contact legal representation.
• You are put on the child abuse registry before a hearing is conducted. You do not have a right to protest your automatic placement on the list, you must have a hearing to get your name off of the list.
• If you are placed on the registry, you are likely going to need to proceed through a full hearing. As of now, few if any cases are dismissed without a full hearing.
“This is something every teacher should take seriously,” says Davies. “If you’re on the registry, you are on it forever unless your appeal is granted. I can’t imagine a scenario where a teacher would be able to teach once they have been placed on the child abuse registry.”