Child abuse

Today I made my first report of suspected child abuse to the Department of Children and Family Services. I noticed one of my students had a prominent injury and she was not in school the last few days.

Teachers are mandated reporters of suspected child abuse; i.e., they are required by law to report to the police or child protective services whenever there is a suspicion of abuse. During the few times I’ve sat through our district’s video on how to report child abuse, I’ve heard over and over that teachers are not to investigate suspected child abuse cases themselves. Turns out that this isn’t exactly the case–the agent at the DCFS said that I was supposed to ask the student what, where, when why the injury happened before reporting the case to the DCFS. Because I didn’t do this, the school nurse stepped in to ask the student some questions.

The student reported to the nurse that she injured herself. I hope this is the truth. I have not spoken to the student myself since this morning. I’m not sure whether or how to bring up the subject next time I see the student. My inclination is to apologize for bringing up an unpleasant topic and to convey to her that I am concerned for all of my students and that they should feel welcome to talk to us teachers about anything.

UPDATED:  I spoke to the student and she said she understood that I was just looking out for her.

4 thoughts on “Child abuse

  1. I just had to train some employees on this. Did the DCFS accept the report, or dismiss it? I think it depends on whether the student was shifty in her response (i.e. possibly lying). I hope for her sake she was telling the truth, too.

  2. Such a tough situation. I think that in the long run, no matter how angry or embarrassed a student might be that injuries got reported, it is much much worse for them to believe they could be injured and nobody would care to notice.

    When I think about being a student in high school, I remember thinking that the adults around were blind to what was really going on. Then when I was teaching high school, the students said the same about us. They didn’t want to tell us what was going on, but they did want us to know. It was frustrating as a teacher to feel like in order to know what was going on, we had to spy on students or encourage them to tell on their peers.

    It seems like emphasizing that you are acting out of concern is a good plan if you decide to speak with the student directly. And if the student doesn’t take it well at the time, I don’t think you should take it to mean that the student is not glad you noticed. They just might not be able to feel or express appreciation in the moment due to embarrassment (which can lead to anger).

  3. Another thought: when you first mentioned the student was hurt, I didn’t think of the parents, I thought of the boy/girlfriend. When one reports child abuse, is the person just reporting the injury, or specifically raising a question about the parents? With high schoolers, it seems just as likely that the injury is from a peer.

  4. In a previous life I did child abuse and neglect work for a living. The person you spoke with at DCFS was out of line. Sometimes you have to remind them of what their job is. Your job is to report any suspicion, regardless of evidence or investigative results. It’s awkward, but it’s a good law (as your student confirmed). Their job is to investigate the report, and to maintain your anonymity if they can. Requiring untrained mandated reporters to do the investigation ensures that fewer mandated reporters will abide by the law and fewer abuse and neglect cases will come to the attention of the authorities (or be dumped on the caseworkers’ already overloaded desks), and so fewer kids will be protected. You did the right thing here D, and DCFS did the wrong, bureaucratic thing. The poor kid (and the poor school nurse, who also has no training in these things, even if he or she is actually a nurse). It sounds like you handled things exactly right with the student, who will, perhaps, seek you out in the future if he or she is being abused. BTW, whether it is parents or boy/girlfriend, abuse is abuse and DCFS should be investigating and protecting.

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