Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

School Counselors and Child Abuse Reporting: A National Survey

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

School Counselors and Child Abuse Reporting: A National Survey

Article excerpt

A study was done to investigate school counselors' child abuse reporting behaviors and perceptions regarding the child abuse reporting process. Participants were randomly selected from the American School Counselor Association membership database with 193 school counselors returning questionnaires. Overall, school counselors indicated that they reported the majority of cases suspected, but significant differences in reporting emerged with regard to school level, school setting, and type of abuse reported. Decisional influences and barriers to reporting also were examined. Implications for future research and training are discussed.


Since the enactment of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in 1974 (Pub. L. No. 93-247), there has been a steady increase in the number of child abuse cases reported by those mandated to report (Shireman, 2003). According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS), investigation rates have risen 27.1% since 1990 (USDHHS, 2005). Consistently, mandatory reporters (defined originally as individuals who come into contact with children as part of their occupation) have accounted for a sizable number of the child abuse reports made to Child Protective Services (CPS) or other legal entities, making up 55.8% of all reports in 2004 (USDHHS, 2006).

Approximately three million reports of child abuse are made every year in this country (USDHHS, 2005). Even so, estimates are that the rate of child abuse is actually three times greater than is reported (USDHHS). Retrospective reports from adults put estimates of sexual abuse at 1 in 4 females and 1 in 10 males by age 18 (Berliner, 2002). Nearly a quarter of all cases of child abuse reported each year are physical abuse (Kolko, 2002), while neglect is consistently the most frequently reported type of abuse (USDHHS). Hamarman, Pope, and Czaja (2002) found a 300-fold disparity in the rate of emotional abuse reports between states, most likely due to variations in definitions for that type of abuse, so current rates are unclear. Considering the number of children victimized every year, the fact that the majority of these victims are not identified is sobering.

Because of their unique standing within the school setting, the child abuse reporting behaviors of school counselors may differ from those of teachers or other mandated reporters. Because of their position, school counselors are on the front lines with regard to child abuse concerns presenting in the school setting (Bryant & Milsom, 2005). Lambie (2005) suggested that school counselors often function as experts or consultants within their schools to others who have questions about child abuse or child abuse reporting. School counselors are also more likely to maintain long-term relationships with many of their students when compared with other mental health professionals, and thus they inherently promote circumstances in which students would be more likely to report abusive incidents to them. Additionally, school counselors may be more familiar with the other microsystems in a child's life, including such systems as neighborhood, family, peers, or other community groups.

Past research has focused on the reporting behaviors of educators and mental health professionals, but rarely school counselors specifically. Studies suggest that a substantial amount of variance in an individual's decision to report may be related to the degree or seriousness of the abuse as well as the type of abuse encountered (Beck & Ogloff, 1995; Crenshaw, Crenshaw, & Lichtenberg, 1995). When barriers to reporting have been examined, the most frequent reasons given for failure to report were lack of competence in recognition and reporting procedures, concerns about a possible negative effect of a report on the child, fear of legal ramifications, professional ethics (e.g., concern about breaking confidentiality, causing harm to the child or the therapeutic relationship), and concern regarding lack of substantial proof (Abrahams, Casey, & Daro, 1992; Kalichman, 1999, Levine & Doueck, 1995). …

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