It is very difficult for school counselors to deal with learning one of our students we want to protect is being abused. I know in my state, Arkansas, has passed some tough mandated reporter laws and although the laws are in place I still worry there are those who are not reporting child abuse. Looking back over my first year as a school counselor, the hardest part of dealing with child abuse is remaining calm while listening to sometimes horrendous accounts. Every child should feel loved and safe never alone and hurting.
When researching child abuse prevention we need to think about how to help the child and that needs to include the family. Look for your state and local specific statistics to help you understand more about your community. What resources are available in your area?
School counselors need to work with their principals to find out if their school has a written policy for reporting abuse. Does your principal expect to be notified? It is better to know what the policies are prior to an incident.
My first child abuse incident to report was scary to say the least. I wanted to make sure I did things right in order to present all the facts. Working with experienced school counselors and even your principal can make the reporting as accurate as possible.
When reporting child abuse here are some tips for communicating effectively:
- Try to be as specific as you can. For example, instead of saying, "The parents are not dressing the child right," say something like, "The child came to school last week and then again this morning without a jacket or other warm clothing. I saw him shivering and uncomfortable at the bus line this morning. When I asked him if he had any warm clothes he said he did but he was in trouble and not allowed to wear them." However, remember that it is not your job to "prove" abuse or neglect. If suspicions are all you have, you should report those as well.
- Report what the child says to you not what you think they meant. Write down direct quotes to include on the report.
- If you see future incidences, continue to call and report them. Each child abuse report is a snapshot of what is going on in the family. The more information that you can provide, the better the chance of getting the best care for the child.