Dealing with suspected child abuse is one of the most difficult challenges faced by school personnel-one that may profoundly affect not only the child and his or her family, but also the school. This article will summarize recent research that will be helpful in providing guidance to all educators as they deal with recognizing and reported abuse.
Research revealed startling statistics regarding the number of abused children in America, although research on child abuse is a fairly recent development. Only in the last two decades has the subject appeared in professional journals. It is urgent that all personnel in public schools become more knowledgeable about child abuse and make every effort to break the continuing cycle of abuse of children (Bear, Schenk, & Buckner, 1993). Further, it is important for all educators, school leaders as well as faculty/staff members, to be knowledgeable and skilled in the area of child abuse identification and to have a thorough understanding of the laws pertaining to mandatory reporting. Here are some of the specific questions concerning the issue:
1. What constitutes child abuse and what are some signs of identification?
2. What are the legal implications of mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse?
3. What are the liabilities to educators for failure to report suspected child abuse?
4. How do federal, state, and local governments coordinate efforts to assist with child abuse reporting?
5. What happens after suspected child abuse is reported to the appropriate authority?
6. What role do school employees play in recognizing and reporting suspected child abuse?
Types of Child Abuse
The idea that hitting a child constitutes abuse is a relatively recent one. Up until the last century, as long as parents did not kill or permanently maim their children, neither the state nor society believed it their responsibility to intervene in the discipline of a child. In colonial America, the father ruled his wife and children. The child was considered little more than the property of the parents. Parental discipline was sometimes severe, and parents, teachers and ministers found justification for stern discipline in the Bible (Siegel, Plesser, & Foster, 1989).
Despite considerable research on physical child abuse, little is known about where to draw the line between permissible forms of physical punishment and actual abuse. Currently, 26 states forbid spanking in public schools and 37 states prohibit foster parents from striking children (Whipple, 1997). Although research suggested that the majority of American parents occasionally spank their children, there is no national or scientific consensus on what constitutes acceptable definitions or levels of physical discipline.
Johnson (1992) stated that reports of abuse are not limited to any particular group of people or geographic location in our society She finds that abuse is considered to be unbiased with regard to ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geographic locale, religious beliefs, and age of the perpetrator.
Although social standards have encouraged a more humane treatment of youngsters in modern years, there are still presently many children suffering pain, embarrassment, or even death due to abuse and/or neglect by those entrusted with their safety and well-being. One of the most frustrating aspects of dealing with the subject of child abuse is deciding just what it involves. Abuse was defined as any non-accidental physical injury inflicted on a child by a parent or other caretaker deliberately or in anger (Reiniger, Robinson, & McHugh, 1995). Abuse is therefore an act of commission. Types of this abuse included: (a) physical abuse (battered children), (b) sexual abuse, and (c) emotional abuse. On the other hand, neglect was defined by most authorities as a condition in which a caretaker responsible for the child either deliberately or by extraordinary inattentiveness, permits the child to experience avoidable present suffering and/or fails to provide one or more of the ingredients generally deemed essential for developing a person's physical, intellectual and emotional capacities (Tite, 1993). …