A few weeks ago (2/23/16), Shoresh, a Baltimore/DC area day camp, sent parents an email about an alleged abuser on their staff (see full text below). At first glance it is very reassuring. It seems to tell the story we want to hear. They got an abuse allegation, they promptly suspended the alleged abuser, notified the authorities who investigated, and the suspect was cleared. And they notified parents.
“Unsubstantiated” is not the same as “ruled out.”
But the letter is deceptive. It states the allegations were eventually deemed “unsubstantiated.” That is not a clean bill of health under Maryland’s system for classifying allegations reported to protective services. This is what I found perusing the website of Maryland’s Child Protective Services.
At the completion of every CPS investigative response, a determination is made as to whether the reported abuse or neglect is indicated or unsubstantiated or ruled out. Anyone believed responsible for an indicated or unsubstantiated finding of child abuse or neglect is entered into a central confidential state database. (Maryland Child Protective Services).
This database is available to be checked by those considering hiring someone to work with children or for checking prospective foster parents or adoptive parents.
So usbsubstantiated is not the same as ruled out. It just means the evidence is not strong to take actions such as removing a child from custody of a parent or guardian, but it is sufficient to justify caution about allowing someone access to work with children or otherwise care for them.
Will this employee’s suspension be lifted?
Shoresh says it suspended the accused staffer. But will they now rehire him/her in spite of this red flag? The letter provides no clue.
Why did it take so long to inform parents?
The incident was reported in the summer, yet they waited till late February to inform parents. Why the delay? The letter says, “Shoresh followed the authorities’ instructions not to release information that could impede their respective investigations and actions.”
But the investigation was completed well before February. What followed was an appeals and arbitration process which was resolved with a deal of a classification of unsubstantiated. This suggests the initial finding was the most serious one where protective actions are findicated. Other institutions in the same situation, usually at the request of investigators, inform parents to help locate other potential victims.
Did Shoresh fulfill its reporting obligations?
Their letter states: “Less than one (1) business day following receipt of this allegation, Shoresh … reported the allegation…” However, Maryland law requires immediate oral reports and a written report within 48 hours. Those 48 hours do not depend on business days. It is possible to receive a report on Friday and delay by 72 hours till Monday. That would be within a business day, but not within the law’s requirements of reporting within 48 hours. More important, why didn’t the letter say they immediately made an oral report. Are they avoiding admitting they delayed the obligation to call immediately
Best practice is immediate direct reporting to authorities
If I were a Shoresh parent, I would want answers to these questions. Moreover, parents and others suspecting abuse should not report them to camp administrators who can have an interest in covering up abuse. Instead, they should immediately report the abuse to the authorities. In too many cases, institutions use the lag in reporting to muddy the waters. The best investigations are ones that start without delay before evidence can be lost or mangled.
Full Text of the letter sent to parents
Subject: Important Letter From Shoresh
Date: Tue, 23 Feb 2016 18:16:51 -0500 (EST)
From: Rabbi Dave <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dear Friends and Family of Shoresh,
We write to you today regarding a situation that occurred at Camp Shoresh in August 2015 – after camp had ended – and to update you regarding the status of the matter. At all times throughout this process, Shoresh’s singular commitment has remained, and will continue to remain, with the children and families of Shoresh.
Last summer, an allegation was made by a Shoresh camper about improper conduct by a former Shoresh employee toward the camper. Less than one (1) business day following receipt of this allegation, Shoresh both reported the allegation to the Frederick County Department of Social Services – Child Protective Services (CPS) and suspended the employee’s relationship with Shoresh pending resolution of any and all investigations by the appropriate authorities. Shoresh fully and promptly complied with its obligations under Maryland’s mandatory reporting laws and regulations, as applicable. Thereafter, Shoresh fully cooperated with all investigating agencies, including the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and CPS. Importantly, Shoresh followed the authorities’ instructions not to release information that could impede their respective investigations and actions.
Last week, Shoresh was informed that the attorney for CPS determined that the allegations against the employee are unsubstantiated and CPS will not be moving forward with any proceedings against the former employee. Additionally, because both CPS and the former employee agreed that this was the appropriate disposition of the matter, the case was settled between the parties without adjudication by an administrative law judge, and the case is now closed and is no longer subject to the appellate process.
Because Shoresh’s focus and commitment are to the safety and well-being of our children and families, Shoresh works to carefully vet and train its counselors and staff prior to offering them employment, and conducts comprehensive background checks including criminal checks of all staff, both new and returning, each year before the start of camp. Further, we have procedures and policies in place to help ensure the safety of our children, including, but not limited to, mandatory fingerprinting for all staff, and the establishment of policies and procedures regarding abuse. Of course, we remain committed to the safety of your children, and intend to proactively revisit, supplement and update these policies and procedures.
Now that the legal proceedings against the former Shoresh employee have concluded, we wanted to reach out to you to address this situation in a transparent manner and to convey to you that we have taken, and continue to take, this situation very seriously. Nothing is more important than the health, well-being and safety of every member of the Shoresh family.
Shoresh was, is, and always will be committed to the same mission it was founded on thirty-seven (37) years ago – building a positive Jewish identity among children and their families. We hope and pray that Shoresh will continue to thrive in transforming its mission into success and positively impact Jewish families for years to come.
Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to let us know.
John Davison, Chairman of the Board of Directors
Steve Attman, Board President
Rabbi David Finkelstein, Executive Director