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Safety Solutions

"Is it child abuse every time a student has a mark on them?"  A few thoughts to consider

Posted by John Baker on Jan 9, 2017 12:04:38 PM

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Johnny has a bruise on his arm and his mother calls and tells the principal "he must have gotten this at school".  Far to often in today's educational world an allegation such like this automatically turns into a child abuse investigation due to stringent state regulations.   Gone are the days of asking a few common sense questions before calling out of fear of not reporting in a timely manner and being sanctioned.  Tragically in the name of "protecting children" we have become more concerned about "protecting ourselves" for fear of being accused of mismanaging an allegation. Surely we would expect the courtesy of a few questions from a co-worker who may be preparing to call in a child abuse allegation on us?  I can't tell you how many times I have interviewed alleged abusers and they ask " why didn't they just come talk to me?  I could have explained what happened?"  The reality is accusing a staff member of child abuse without applying some due diligence has a significant impact not only on the staff member but the classroom as well.  It is time to slow down.  Take a few minutes and consider the possibilities and ask a few questions before rushing to dial the 1-800-child abuse hot line.  Our initial response and inquiry can have long lasting consequences and should not be taken lightly.

Before picking up the phone consider these tips:

1. You have the right and obligation to make an informed decision as to whether it is child abuse.  Ask a few questions and get some clarification.  Many times the answers are right there but we are all afraid to ask them for fear of interfering with an official investigation.  

2. Consider three types of incidents that may have occurred and resulted in the allegation of child abuse. All of them require some form of follow-up but only one would rise to reporting child abuse:

  • Accidents.  Sometimes staff simply bumps into, falls over or accidentally injures a child.  It happens.  Don't rush to judgment.  Listen to the staff member and other witnesses before reaching a conclusion.  " I turned around to answer a student's question and accidentally bumped Susan in the eye with my elbow".   A single mere accident is not child abuse.
  • Unprofessional Conduct.  From time to time staff does some unprofessional things.  A student is becoming violent and rather than redirecting the student the staff member grabs the student's arm leaving a mark while averting a possible fight.  Was it right to grab the student?  Maybe not.  Is this one-time unprofessional intervention child abuse?  I don't think so.
  • Child Abuse.  A staff member knowing harms a child resulting in substantial pain or injury.  As soon as you hear the story and speak with the witnesses you know that what happened crossed a line.  You can think of no scenario where the staff member's conduct was warranted.  This is more than likely child abuse and should be reported after you gather the basic facts.  

3. Listen to your gut along with the information you gathered.  Ask yourself "why am I reporting this?"  Do you reasonably believe that child abuse occurred or are you more worried about what might happen to you if you don't call? 

I think we can all agree that we want to protect children from abuse.  Equally I believe we agree that we don't want to wreck a co-workers professional and personal life if we aren't reasonably sure abuse happened.  This is serious business.  So before making the next child abuse call take a few minutes and consider the three tips provided above.  This is John Baker with safetysolutions4schools.com.


Topics: School Safety

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