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School Social Worker Fired After Reporting Elder Abuse Involving Student

Social worker Danielle Marino, LCSW, is suing an Illinois company for firing her after she called an elder abuse hotline to report incidents involving a student, according to this article in Courthouse News Service.

Marino was employed by VHS of Illinois to work at MacNeal School, a high school for children with social and emotional disorders.

A 17-year-old girl repeatedly reported her adoptive grandfather was urinating in her bed, defecating around the house, and had threatened her with a knife when he did not recognize her. The child also came to school smelling of urine.

Marino reported the incidents to her supervisor, who told her there was nothing the school could do and that the school did not want to upset the child’s mother. When the student continued to report trouble at home Marino reported the family’s situation to an elder abuse hotline.

The school fired her the next week. School officials said Marino should have first reported the incident up the chain of command at the school.

 

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5 Comments

  1. State laws vary, but in every state I am familiar with there are protections written into the law to protect mandated reporters from such retaliation by employers. That said, and acknowleding no familiarity with this particular situation other than whats written here, I have known of mandated reporters being fired, not for making the report, but for failing to follow the organizations protocol for such reporting. And dismissals in those situations have been sustained. It seems that this is the tack that the school is pursuing.

    The article however suggests that the social worker did in-fact report this “up the chain of command” and that the social workers supervisor /employer, Dr. Moor, blocked the report siting the risk of being sued.

    It seems to me that Dr. Moor is the one who should be in real trouble. I’d be interested to learn the doctors credentials. (and financial links to the school.) State mandated reporting laws typically include protections from liability unless it can be proven that the report was knowingly false and presented with malicious intent.

    This will be interesting to watch as the details emerge. The school may be in major hot water. Or not.

  2. I believe both parties were doing what they thought best given their own educational backgrounds and responsibilites according to their profession. It seems to me this is an organizational and systemic issue where multiple disciplines are interacting with one another. There should be some sort of protocol where both the school administrators and school social workers can come to common ground. To my knowledge, there should be a way to report such allegations anonymously through Adult Protective Services where that agency makes a decision as to whether there is a need for intervention. To me it seems that this is the route the social worker went and the school administrator did not support.

    The real issue here is what is happening now with this child and her adoptive grandfather. Are they getting the support that they need…is the question. What is in the best interests of this family?

    This story speaks to the essential need to have strong policies in place that are easy to understand and follow as well as a process when a supervisor and worker do not agree when there is a multidisciplinary approach to helping children, youth and families.

  3. Indeed there is a need for clear policies in the school setting. That said, the supervisor identified is a licensed psychologist and the “Dean of Students” at the school. Under state law SHE is also a mandated reporter. Both as a licensed mental health professional but also as a school official. Ignorance of the law by a person in such a position of responsibility is inexcusable. The law does not deliniate different responsibilities for social workers and psychologists and school administrators.
    The responsibilities are the same. Even if the perspective is different.

    The common ground protocol is pretty clearly established in the law. If you suspect an abusive or neglectful situation your mandate is to report it to the state authorities who will conduct an independent investigation to determine the merits of the complaint. To prohibit someone from pursuing what they believe is their legal obligation to report, is in fact a violation of the law.
    I’m confused by the suggestion that an “annonymous report” would in some way be a better way of handling this. In hundreds of CPS investigations I’ve been involved in it is generally quite easy for families to guess the identity of annonymous reporters simply based upon the nature of the complaint and the information contained in the complaint. Annonymous reports also carry a significant burden for investigators who are subsequently denied the opportunity to ask for clarification of specific and sometimes life-saving details.

    In my interpretation of the facts as presened I suspect that the supervisor forbid the social worker from reporting to child protective services. But the social worker found a back door means of reporting (and going around her supervisor) by reporting instead to adult protective services. If that’s the case, it was a clever ruse, but she would have perhaps been better off if she had just taken the complaint to the supervisors boss. Or simply told her supervisor to back off, reminded her of the legal obligations and then called CPS in the supervisors presence. Both acts would have amounted to insubordination. But both actions would also have been perfectly legal and appropriate.

    The difficulty for us on the outside is that we have no real understanding of the pressures, conditions or culture that exists within that particular school. As such, the action undertaken by the social worker was legal, responsible, mandated and by all accounts in the best interest of the vulnerable.

  4. A bummer in the summer! God bless Ms. Marino for stepping up and making the call. If they fired you, it is not a place you want to work at anyway. What kind of school would stand by and allow abuse to go on, and we are mandated to report…period! I was a school social worker and did many a report over the decades. I am glad I did because I slept well knowing my ethics and conduct were sound. That is more important than a job. Ms. Marino will get another position.
    We had a grey area back in the 80’s when I was a school social worker. An older male teacher would often say things to students who were limited in their English. Things he said, and sometimes the way he would touch them, was clearly sexual harassment. I reported it to administration. Nothing happened. It continued and finally I did a CPS report. The teacher was removed after that. Abuse requires people standing up for the best interests of the child, regardless of their mental status. Keep up the good work Ms. Marino and the school you worked at will continue to have severe problems and the students well be jeopardized.

  5. Does anyone know how this case was resolved? Did Miss Marino win her appeal?

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