Working with children in a school, whether you are an educator or a guidance counselor is an awesome responsibility. They spend most of their waking hours there and in essence is their second home. Does a school have a responsibility beyond academic advancement? Do our schools consider the social/emotional welfare of its students? In my experience, the answer is, depends on the school. I want to share one story that focuses on a well intentioned principle, but fell into the “we take care of our own” mentality and in my opinion falls short of taking social/emotional issues seriously.
I was once called by a young person looking for help because this child was being abused by a parent. I explained my mandate to report such abuse and ways this child could get help. The child seemed relieved. Shortly after, I received a voicemail from the principle of this child asking me not to report the abuse stating irrelevant reasons related to “handling this within the community”.
After getting permission from the child to speak with the principle, I asked him how long he had knowledge of the abuse. He said for about a year and that he was working with the family. I then strongly educated him on his mandate to report and told him how his action was irresponsible and illegal. In many ways he was responsible for any abuse that took place after becoming aware of the situation and not reporting it. I then ended the conversation and reported the abuse to the department of children and family services (DCFS).
Child abuse is something, as I am sure for most of you, I find truly abhorrent. Sadly I have seen more than my share of it through my clinical work with emotionally, physically, and sexually abused children over the years. Fortunately, I have also had the opportunity of helping these children. There are so many young people out there at this moment without a voice, without an advocate, and without a chance of repairing the damage done by others. My work with these kids focused on regaining a sense of control, sense of self and, above all, a sense of innocence brutally robbed from them. More often than not the thief was a relative or someone close to them. When it happens within a close knit community it is often someone the child’s educators, therapists and community members know as well. It is for this reason the mandate to report is so important, lest we thing we can handle it “within the community.” We can’t and more importantly, we shouldn’t!
Many people either think there is nothing they can do or that someone else will take care of it. I have met too many teachers, community leaders, neighbors, friends and parents who have allowed child abuse to continue because they thought someone else would deal with it or they just could not “believe” that so and so would hurt a child. We need to educate ourselves on the signs of abuse. We need to become better advocates for children, especially if we work with them on a regular basis.
I implore anyone who suspects that a child is being abused to do something about it. Check out this site and learn the signs and what you can do. If you live in New York you can report child abuse at the New York State Child Abuse Hotline: 800.342.3720 or call the 24-hour Crime Victims Hotline: 866.689.HELP (4357) to find resources outside New York. If you live in California check out the DCFS website or call their abuse hot-line at 1 (800) 540-4000. If you live outside California you can call them at (213) 639-4500 and they can guide you to your local state agency.
As for the child whose abuse I reported, DCSF got involved with the family and, I am happy to say, through various clinical interventions and support the abuse stopped and the young person and family are all doing well.