The following post is written by one of our Criminal Justice interns, Kailee, who has been interning with us since May. Kailee attends Oakland University and is interested in pursuing a career in Law.
The Child Advocacy Center of Lapeer County has three main goals: prevention, intervention, and treatment. The CAC is focused on reducing trauma that the child may experience as much as possible, and it is important that members of the community help us achieve this. As an authority figure in the community, educators are normally the first people who encounter signs of child abuse. It is vital that educators learn the signs and understand their role in the prevention and intervention of child abuse, while learning how they can proactively advocate for those children.
Statutes That Outline Child Safety
In general, there are two Federal statutes that outline and promote child safety: the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) and the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA). According to ASFA, there are three national goals for child protection: Safety, permanency, and child and family well-being. Each child has a right to live in an environment that is free from abuse and neglect, and safety is the primary concern for child protection efforts. Permanency means that a child deserves to have a place that they can call home that has an overall sense of connection and contributes to healthy development. Child and family well-being involves having nurturing families and environments where their physical, emotional, educational, and social needs are met. In order to help a child achieve adequate safety, permanency, and child and family well-being, it is important for teachers to be able to recognize when a child is lacking social and developmental skills as they progress through the school year.
The Role of Educators
Children spend a great deal of time in school, which allows educators to spot any signs of abuse, dramatic changes in behavior, or sudden withdraw from a student. According to a manual that was published in 2003 by the Department of Health and Human Services, there are three reasons why educators are so vital in identifying, treating, and preventing child abuse. First, they share a close connection and environment with the child. Second, educators are legally mandated and responsible for reporting suspected maltreatment. Third, the position educators hold allows them to advocate for students in a way that no one else can. They have resources and programs that are at their disposal which they can offer to a child in need.
4 Reasons to Become Involved
Educators are leaders in their community and are in a good position to initiate involvement in a suspected child abuse case. Community involvement should include cooperation, peer mediation, independence, and acceptance of the common good. A community which embodies these values may have higher conviction rates of child abuse offenders and a more stable support system for those who have been affected by child abuse.
1. Community efforts:
Child abuse not only impedes on a child’s ability to learn, but also violates their right to the access of an education because they may have barriers that negatively impact their ability to learn. The trauma that child abuse leaves behind can act as barriers to learning, and may cause a child to fall behind developmentally. As an educator, it is important to recognize and intervene when they feel that a child is not learning at their full capacity. Many times, child abuse may result in a child forming an educational barrier that may be associated with changes in appearance and behavior. When an educator notices that a child’s grades are dropping or their behavior is becoming abnormal, it is time to intervene.
2. Educational opportunities:
By law, educators are mandated to report suspected child abuse and neglect. In addition, almost every state imposes a penalty that ranges from a fine, a misdemeanor charge, or time spent in jail if a mandated reporter fails to report. In addition, it is important to note that educators cannot get in legal trouble for reporting a suspected case of child abuse as they are also protected under the mandated reporting guidelines when reporting suspected child abuse or neglect.
3. Legal concerns:
Educators have a professional responsibility to ensure that the welfare of the child always comes first. Also, educators have a commitment to children that they will intervene and support the child if they suspect any child abuse and/or neglect.
4. Professional commitments:
Recognizing the Signs of Abuse and Neglect
Physical abuse of children involves any nonaccidental injury caused by a caregiver. Some examples of physical abuse are burning, beating, kicking, pinching, etc. Usually bruising may occur in areas such as cheeks, buttocks, and thighs from things like a hand, belt, or a knee. Also, children who are being abused often demonstrate a change in behavior. Some examples of this are: aggression, cowering or fear of adults, disruptive outbursts, fear of going home, extreme risk taking, etc. It is important for an educator to pay close attention to a child’s physical appearance and comments that they may make about their home life.
Child sexual abuse is any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors when one exerts power over the other. It includes, but not limited to: fondling a child’s genitals, intercourse, incest, rape, sexual exploitation, and exposure to pornography. It is also important for educators to know the signs of interaction with sexual predators. With the growing rise of the internet, sexual predators now have access to vulnerable children. Some clues that a child may be interacting with a sexual predator are: preventing others from seeing their computer screen, taking time away from schoolwork to go on the internet, and secretive behavior exhibited when using the internet
More than often, neglect leaves no visible signs and is more likely to go undetected. Since it is the most common form of maltreatment, it is often vital that educators look for and recognize the signs. A child living in poverty is NOT a sign of neglect. Examples of neglect include a family failing to provide a safe environment, leaving a young child home alone, or losing a job that is the only source of income due to poor attendance. When an educator is suspicious of neglect, they should consider the following questions: does the child miss a lot of school? Does the child describe parental behavior that might suggest substance abuse? Is the child appropriately dressed for the weather?
Where to Report
It is important that educators know and are able to identify the signs of child abuse. If an educator suspects that a child is being abused, they should follow their school systems protocol, which will result in a report being filed with the Department of Health and Human Services ASAP. While making a report, it is important that you include as much information as possible, but you should not put the child through an interview process of your own. This may cause further, unnecessary trauma for the child and it is important to wait for trained officials to conduct the interview.
If interested in learning more about the signs and symptoms of child abuse, please sign up for our Darkness to Light’s Steward of Children Training!