Child Abuse: Responsibilities of Educators

State law, Florida statute 39 requires mandatory reporting of known or suspected child abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Florida statute 415 requires mandatory reporting of known or suspected abuse, neglect, or exploitation of adult disabled students.

As educators, our primary goal is to enhance the learning of children and to remove barriers, academic or environmental, that make learning difficult. Not all children come to school equally prepared to learn. Sometimes cognitive problems or handicapping conditions interfere. Sometimes it is social, emotional or behavioral problems that present difficulty. The residual effects of child abuse, abandonment, and neglect, by themselves or in combination with the previously stated factors, present a serious challenge to learning.

The Florida Department of Education mandates child abuse training for all new teachers, and The School District Of Lee County Public Schools also requires this training for all experienced staff who are new to our school district. The Principles of Professional Conduct For The Education Profession In The State Of Florida require reasonable efforts to protect the student.

Recognizing Abuse and Neglect in Children

Child abuse is more than bruises and broken bones. While physical abuse might be the most visible, other types of abuse can leave deep, lasting scars as well. The earlier abused children get help, the greater chance they have to heal and break the cycle—rather than perpetuate it. By learning about common signs of abuse and what you can do to intervene, you can make a huge difference in a child's life. The four types of abuse is physical, neglect, sexual and emotional.

Signs Of Physical Abuse

Non-accidental injury; includes severe beatings, burns, strangulation, or human bites.

The 5 B's include:

  • Burns
  • Bites
  • Bruises
  • Broken Bones
  • Black Eyes

Behavior Signs of Physical Abuse:

  • Child may seem frightened of parents and cries when it is time to go home.
  • Child may withdraw at the approach of adults.
  • Child may report to you an injury inflicted by a parent or another caregiver.

Signs Of Neglect

The failure to provide a child with the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter, or medical care.

Signs of Neglect:

  • Frequent absences
  • Begging or stealing food or money from classmates
  • Lacking medical or dental care
  • Lacking sufficient clothing for the weather
  • Abuse of alcohol or other drugs
  • States there is no one at home to provide care

Signs Of Sexual Abuse

The exploitation of a child for the sexual gratification of an adult, as in rape, incest, fondling, or exhibitionism.

Signs of Sexual Abuse:

  • Child has difficulty walking or sitting
  • Child demonstrates unusual or sophisticated sexual knowledge
  • Child reports sexual abuse by a parent or caregiver
  • Child suddenly refuses to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
  • Child becomes pregnant or contracts a venereal disease

Signs Of Emotional Abuse

The failure to make a child feel safe, secure and loved

Signs of Emotional Abuse:

  • Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
  • Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive).
  • Doesn't seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
  • Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums).

The Teacher's Role

  • Believe what the child has told you
  • Tell the child that you are glad he/she informed you, and let the child know you are sorry about what happened
  • Be aware of your feelings during the disclosure
  • Communicate to the child that it is okay to talk about this to you
  • Reassure the child that it is not his/her fault. It's always the older person's fault.
  • Allow the child to tell you what happened at his own pace
  • Remain non-judgmental in cases of incest; the abuser may have threatened the child to remain silent.
  • Explain that you are required to report it in order to get help
  • Make no promises to the child.