Teachers' Duty to Report Child Abuse and Neglect and the Paradox of Noncompliance: Relational Theory and “Compliance” in the Human Services


  • This research emerged from my doctoral research, and I appreciate all the support from faculty at OISE and UT Social Work, especially my outstanding supervisory committee, Jane Gaskell, Joseph Flessa, and Shelley Gavigan from Osgoode Hall. Particular thanks to Joanna Birenbaum, Jeannie Samuel, David Szablowski, and Eleanore Cronk for input and support in the writing of this article.


Based on in-depth interviews with thirty-eight individuals on the front line of child welfare (educators, mothers, and child protection workers) this study analyzes the attitudes behind educators' acknowledged noncompliance with mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect by teachers. Regulatory theory posits that “compliance” is affected by a mix of sanctions, capacity, motivation, and the perceptions of legitimacy and moral purpose associated with particular rules. Paradoxically, while the educators in this study were knowledgeable and supportive of the rule in principle, their accounts of reporting decision making were highly contextualized and ambivalent. The interview data suggests that existing theories of compliance may be usefully supplemented with an explicitly relational approach that better accounts for decision making in the contexts of care and dependency that characterize regulatory fields of human services such as education and child welfare.