School Districts Assist in Child Abuse Prevention and Reporting
When it comes to child abuse, the statistics for our country are saddening. According to Childhelp, there are more than 3 million reports of child abuse made throughout the U.S. each year, involving over 6 million children, one of the worst records of all the industrialized nations. This is the equivalent of one report made every 10 seconds. And therein lies one of the major keys to combating one of the darkest problems to plague our country: reporting. Only through caution, wariness, and diligent reporting can we ensure justice for victims. This is why all 50 states require educators and school personnel to file reports on suspected abuse or negligence, whether they think it comes from in the home or in the school.
The simple news is the fact that child abuse reporting has increased for school-related perpetrators. Shared learning can be implemented to emulate the techniques that certain schools are using to identify potential abuses.
Where has the reporting rate risen and what does it mean?
The Montgomery County school system in Maryland, the largest in the state, reported more than 3,000 incidents of child abuse last year. According to the Washington Post, this is more than double the amount of reports from 2014, and led to the termination of 26 individuals employed by the school, and the revocation of 7 teaching certificates. A member of the district advisory group and a child sexual abuse clinician, Jennifer Alvaro, recognized the new figures: “It’s clear that they have done a lot of hard work to begin the process to help our kids. That should be noted. It should also be noted that a tremendous amount of work needs to be done.”
While the rise in reporting deserves our recognition, as Alvaro suggests, there are still gaps in the reporting process that should be filled in order to prevent child abuse from happening at all. “Some initiatives are not fully implemented – involving volunteers, additional background checks and parent education.”
While it’s admirable that school personnel are tending to the needs of their students through more efficient legal means, they can enforce more preventative measures to decrease child abuse in schools. It’s important to deal with the effects of child abuse through meticulous reporting and proper persecution, but prevention should be the bigger priority.
1. How can we further these advances in child abuse reporting?
In 2014, the United States Government Accountability Office put out a report addressing the support needed to prevent and report child abuse by school personnel. One of their suggestions to the federal, state, and local initiatives was to “identify mechanisms to better track and analyze the prevalence of child sexual abuse by school personnel through existing federal data collection systems.”
This falls in line with Alvaro’s suggestion of additional background checks, and including volunteers in these intensive procedures prior to giving them free reign within the school building and/or near the students. “Hampered by inadequate access to employee background information, school districts unwittingly hire teachers and staff accused of sexually abusing students in other districts and states,” the U.S. report said. With little training on how to recognize early signs of predatory behavior, school employees don’t always pay attention to a colleague who is “grooming” a student for sexual abuse with inappropriate attention. And some school districts quietly dismiss teachers accused of potential child sexual abuse, without alerting future employers or seeking to revoke teaching credentials,” the report said.
It’s a sad but true statement that sometimes reporting is all that can be done for the victims in these situations. Some schools just aren’t doing their best to prevent the cause. According to the attorney of two student victims in California, “Brentwood Union School District chose to ignore multiple reports of abuse against vulnerable children and allowed a teacher with violent history to continue teaching special needs children who could not speak. They reassigned this teacher to another school, again put her in charge of special needs children who could not speak and gave no warning to their parents. Because of their disabilities, these children could not come home and tell their parents what was happening to them in the classroom.” (Check out this article from Oregon to understand how unreported abusive educators end up quietly transferring to different districts in order to prevent school scandals.)
For this reason, it is so important to have a rigorously organized reporting system that keeps track of all incidental data. When the only thing that can be done is file an official report on the abuser, it is imperative that all of the school’s prior knowledge be secured and backed up by dependable technology.
2. How to we improve upon background checks and accessing these “federal data collection systems”? What are the most effective ways to keep abusers out of schools?
You’ll never know who has the capacity to abuse a student, or who already has abused a student and been discreetly swept away by their previous employer, simply by looking at them. The only way to handle these sensitive situations is gather all background information possible prior to hiring any staff member or volunteer, make sure that background information is kept up to date for the entire duration of their employment, and keep track of any and all records that may be needed for an official report of child abuse. This requires the utmost organization and attention to details, such as vetting everyone on school grounds from the principal to the volunteers who supervise field trips or run the drama club.
In addition to educating school staff about the proper procedures for reporting suspicious incidents, every school district should have a secure and reliable new hire system that enables school administrators to gather all the necessary background checks and fingerprint records for storage in one easily accessible and navigable digital platform. It needs to be stressed that these background checks should extend to all volunteers on school grounds. Information is rarely gathered about volunteers who coach sports or run clubs within the school, or do things as simple as supervise a field trip. All adults should be treated as an equal risk – because they are. This software solution should have permission and access to federal data collection systems as the U.S. Accountability Office suggests. This same system should be conveniently utilized to report abuse cases through its storage of all background and incidental data.