Doctoral candidate Melanie Carlson makes lead author debut
Last November, Melanie Carlson, a doctoral candidate in the School of Social Work, made her lead author debut with “A Good Call? Contextual factors influencing mandated reporting in domestic violence programs.” Written with co-authors Erik Wittrup, Carrie Moylan and Daniel Vélez Ortiz, the article analyzes factors that contribute to advocates deciding to report survivors for child abuse and neglect.
The study involved collecting 142 advocate responses through a statewide survey. The results revealed that advocates who holistically approach reporting often consider how filing a report could “harm the therapeutic alliance” or the survivor’s interest in seeking help.
“Other studies have found that increased reports do not increase substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect,” Melanie said. “Therefore, reporting everything because of a mandate may make advocates consider their liability first over survivors’ needs and clog the child welfare system with cases that won’t be substantiated.”
While all 50 states have enacted statutes that mandate the reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect, states vary in procedures and programs. And it doesn’t end there — agencies in the same county may have different relationships with Child Protective Services, which correlates with the likelihood of advocates reporting, according to the study.
“The holistic approach reduces reports, the strength of an agency’s relationship with CPS correlates with reporting,” stated Melanie about her findings.
The subject matter for the study comes from Melanie’s over-five year experience working in domestic violence shelters. Being a domestic violence shelter advocate is far from glamourous. Melanie worked at shelters while living in Georgia and the Metro D.C. area. While getting her master’s in Social Work from The University of Georgia, she served 10 months as a night shift manager at a shelter. Melanie said the long nights were worth it because she was never bored and had the opportunity to connect with women across a range of experiences and needs. However, what is unique about being a shelter advocate is while they can be dressed in regular clothes and have casual, confidential conversations with residents, there remains a “surveillance factor,” Melanie said.
“I worked with one mother, a survivor, who left the room when I told her I was a mandated reporter,” she added.
The authors hope this study is a stepping stone in creating reporting policies that consider intersectionality and disrupt a centuries-old practice of separating children from their mothers.