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- » The Role of Educators in Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect: Chapter 2 - Identifying Reasons Why Educators Are Concerned About Child Abuse and Neglect
The Role of Educators in Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect
Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children's Bureau., Caliber Associates. Crosson-Tower, Cynthia.|
|Year Published: 2003|
Identifying Reasons Why Educators Are Concerned About Child Abuse and Neglect
The educator has a vital role in identifying, reporting, and preventing child abuse and neglect. Over the last few decades, various organizations have developed programs directed at informing educators that they are a valuable resource. Professionals submitted more than one-half (56.5 percent) of the cases referred to and assessed or investigated by child protective services (CPS), with education personnel the most frequent source of reports (16.2 percent).2 This highlights the important role of educators and indicates that many educators are already involved in responding to this issue, yet more can be done to address maltreatment. Several studies indicate that many educators are not entirely clear what the indicators of child abuse and neglect are or how to report suspected maltreatment.3 One study surveyed 2,793 schools to assess staff readiness to report maltreatment. Because only 51 percent of those completing the questionnaire had received training on reporting child maltreatment, there is still much work to be done to alert educators to their important role in identifying and reporting abuse and neglect.4
There are many reasons why educators are so vital in identifying, treating, and preventing child maltreatment. First, they have close and consistent contact with children. Second, educators have a professional and legally mandated responsibility for reporting suspected maltreatment. While educators facilitate children's learning, children cannot learn effectively if their attention or energy is sapped by the conflicts inherent in being maltreated. Third, school personnel have a unique opportunity to advocate for children, as well as provide programs and services that can help children and strengthen families. It is important to realize that a positive relationship with a supporting adult may enhance the resiliency of children who have been abused, are at-risk for being abused, or live in a home where no maltreatment occurs but the family experiences other problems, such as substance abuse.
This chapter discusses a variety of reasons why educators must become involved in preventing and responding to child abuse and neglect. These reasons are related to:
- Community efforts
- Educational opportunities
- Legal concerns
- Professional responsibilities
- Personal commitments
Dealing with child abuse and neglect is, in fact, a community effort. As leaders in their communities, educators are often in an ideal position to initiate this type of teamwork. A variety of formal programs involving the schools and the community have been especially effective in addressing the difficult and self-destructive behavior in youth that often is an aftereffect of child abuse.
Model programs use community resources to promote the concepts of cooperation, peer mediation, independence, and acceptance of the common good.5 A good example of one such community effort took place in a small city and resulted in the conviction for sexual abuse of a popular clergyman who had been involved with a local Boy Scout troop. Once the initial shock had subsided, the church members joined with local school officials and other citizens to address the concerns of the community's children and their parents. Support groups for both the abused boys and the nonabused boys who knew the perpetrator, as well as awareness and educational programs, helped the stunned community recover.
The primary goal of the education system is to teach. In order to achieve this, it is sometimes necessary to remove barriers that impede a child's ability to learn. Every year, millions of dollars are authorized through various legislative acts for this purpose, including the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-110), the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142), which is now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA (P.L. 101-476). These laws protect the right of every child to an education and attest to the Nation's commitment to remove barriers to each child's ability to learn. The trauma and residual effects of child abuse and neglect are barriers to learning as much as any type of academic or physical impediment that schools spend so much time addressing.6
Educators are trained to recognize and intervene when children are not able to benefit fully from their educational opportunities. This training makes them uniquely qualified to detect indicators that may signify that a child is being maltreated. Since schools are one of the few places in which children are seen almost daily, educators have a chance to see changes in appearance and behavior. From classroom teachers to guidance counselors, as well as social workers, nurses, psychologists, and administrators—everyone becomes an integral part of the educational team to help children.
To learn more about legislation related to education issues, visit http://www.ed.gov/index.jhtml.
Every State legally mandates that educators report suspected child abuse and neglect. A mandated reporter is anyone required by State law to report maltreatment to the designated State agency. However, some States clearly define that teachers, principals, nurses, and counselors are included in this mandate, while other States designate all school personnel. In addition, almost every State levies a penalty against mandated reporters who choose not to report. This penalty ranges from a fine, a misdemeanor charge, or time spent in jail. Until recently, most States did not strictly enforce these penalties, but this has changed within the last few years. A number of States have sanctioned nonreporters for failing to obey reporting laws, so it is important that educators know the reporting laws for their State.
In addition to penalties for not reporting abuse and neglect, all States provide immunity from civil liability and criminal penalty for mandated reporters who report in good faith. In other words, the law requires educators to report child abuse and neglect, provides protection for those educators who become involved, and penalizes those who fail to meet their obligations.
Educators have a keen sense of their professional responsibility to the children in their care. They are concerned about the health, safety, and happiness of these children. Educators are aware that they are role models for the children they teach and that they may be an important source of support, concern, and care for many children. Educators want to do what is best for the children in their care because their professional standards require it. As mandated reporters, all educators have the responsibility not only to report suspected abuse, but also to know how to make a report, to be familiar with their district's policies and reporting procedures, and to communicate with CPS.
Additionally, as adults in constant contact with children, educators must be aware of issues surrounding physical contact with a child—what is considered appropriate versus inappropriate in everyday classroom activities—as well as the issue of corporal punishment.
Many daycare centers and schools are requesting or even mandating that their staff not touch children because of fears that allegations of child abuse will be made against the educators. Nurturing touch, however, may enhance learning for some children. All children, and certainly those who are not nurtured at home, may be robbed of this important element.
Educators should not be afraid of "normal" touching, as it is another positive gesture or affirmation that they can give. It is important to realize, however, that what is considered "normal" varies between individuals and is affected by such factors as personal experience and cultural background. Touching is always a concern if it is done in secrecy or isolation from others or for the sexual gratification of the educator. Children need to be informed and empowered about what is appropriate and inappropriate touching.7 Prevention programs are now designed to inform children about good, bad, and confusing touch. "Good touch" usually refers to hugs, encouraging pats, and other positive gestures. It is important to remember that people may interpret these gestures differently. For example, some people prefer not to be hugged; for them this is not "good touching." "Bad touch" usually refers to hitting, punching, biting, and other acts that hurt. "Confusing touch" refers to contact that may not feel quite right to children. For instance, the child may feel that the touch lasts too long or is different in some way from the way in which other children are touched.
Once children are informed about "good," "bad," or "confusing" touch, respect for children requires that they be given permission to express their feelings about receiving such touches. Children who are trained to recognize how certain touches feel to them and who are encouraged to express their feelings should be allowed to tell the teacher when something does not feel good. Certainly, no child should be made to feel solely responsible for his or her own protection. This training, however, may help children to feel more confident and comfortable talking with adults about potentially inappropriate touch.
One type of touch used in some schools is corporal punishment. Currently, over half of the States have legally prohibited the practices of hitting, paddling, or punishing children with physical force. Practice varies across school systems and jurisdictions. Additionally, research and opinion vary regarding both the effectiveness and impact of corporal punishment. Most studies imply that corporal punishment, on its own, does not teach right from wrong or deter future misbehavior.8
There are several considerations regarding physical punishment in schools. When children are "paddled," school personnel may not always consider alternative or other, more creative forms of punishment. The following case example illustrates the potential benefits of seeking inventive, alternative forms of discipline.
Educators also should be aware that any method of discipline, whether it is time-outs, corporal punishment, or exclusion from activities, can have an unintended impact on an abused or neglected child. Some children who have been abused may actually invite such discipline, if it is the only attention they believe they can get or to which they are entitled. The punishment may be ineffective as a way to stop misbehavior in such instances. Therefore, it is important to try to understand what motivates the child's actions to determine appropriate discipline and encourage good behavior.
For many educators, their professional responsibility is supported by a deep personal commitment to the welfare of children. The value of this personal commitment is significant because without it, child abuse and neglect prevention and treatment efforts would be only superficial or ineffective. It is this sense of personal responsibility to and for children that is perhaps the strongest reason for educators to become involved in the prevention and intervention of child abuse and neglect.
The helping professions, including education, often attract those who would like to help improve the lives of others. Some educators were victims of maltreatment in their own families and these abuses may have left residual scars. As educators learn more about child maltreatment, they may find themselves experiencing strong emotions or feelings. The best solution is to try to understand these feelings and not to ignore them. There are numerous books for people who have survived abusive childhoods that may help, while some educators may want to increase their understanding through therapy. Whatever means they choose, educators need to understand their own personal feelings surrounding child maltreatment.
A fourth-grade student was constantly vandalizing school property (e.g., writing on desks, etching words in wooden surfaces, and breaking equipment). For each offense he was sent to the principal's office for a "paddling." When his regular teacher was out for a prolonged illness, the long-term substitute believed that this method was not working and wanted to try a "natural consequences" method. After the next offense (etching obscene words in a wooden table), the boy was required to stay in during recess and after school to sand down and completely refinish the small table. After one or two similar gestures with similar punishments, his vandalism ceased. The punishment was "a lot of work," but he also was getting the individual company of the teacher as they were forced to be together during off hours. The teacher felt that it was this attention that the student craved, and the teacher searched for and found more positive methods for the student to request it.
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