Teachers play a significant role in a child’s education, but they can also recognize the signs of child abuse and neglect. Teachers have a responsibility to report suspicions of child abuse. Teachers are also trained on how to report the abuse. Other staff, such as school administrators, must know the signs and how to report the abuse as well.
Generally, teachers with reasonable cause to believe a claim of child abuse or neglect must immediately notify a state agency. In New Jersey, it is the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP). Failing to make the report can place a teacher in jeopardy of arrest or civil liability.
What are the Signs of Child Abuse or Neglect?
Is it important that teachers recognize the signs of child abuse and neglect, which can be physical or behavioral. Some typical signs of child abuse and neglect include:
- Broken bones and bruising
- Lacerations and abrasions
- Frequent absences
- Accident proneness
- Poor concentration or sleepiness
- Academic difficulties
- Increased aggression
- Poor peer relationships
- Poor personal hygiene
- Disheveled clothes
- Unusual remarks about sexual activities
- Sudden mood changes
Behavioral Indicators May be Subtle
Signs of physical abuse generally present themselves more prominently than behavioral evidence of emotional abuse or neglect. The teacher’s task is to discern how the child feels or responds to others in order to look for the signs of abuse. This is not as obvious as disheveled clothes or poor hygiene. The teacher may have to work harder to discover the tell-tale signs of abuse. Some behavioral signs of child abuse include:
- Extremes in behavior: Teachers have the opportunity to notice changes in behavior since they spend a good amount of time with students.
- Destructive behavior: This includes self-destructive actions and actions against other children.
- Withdrawal: Withdrawal is lack of verbal communication with others. A troubled child may be able to communicate with the teacher but not with other children.
- Emotional secrecy: Emotional secrecy usually happens in sexual abuse cases because the child may not want to share their story out of fear or embarrassment.
Recognizing any of the signs of abuse should trigger a response from a teacher. Taking action is not inconsistent with the teacher’s primary educational responsibilities. There are other obvious and subtle signs of abuse and neglect. If one is in doubt about a sign, they should speak to a professional, such as the school nurse, psychologist, or social worker.
It is important to note that a teacher does not have to assemble or have tangible proof of the abusive conduct. They only need to note that a situation or circumstance caused them to suspect abuse. However, the teacher should make a report to assess if there is reasonable cause to the allegation.
In many cases, mandated reports of child abuse are unreliable. The Children’s Bureau reported that in 2020, 44 percent of referred abuse cases were screened out and not investigated, and out of the remaining, only 16 percent were substantiated.
Reporting the Abuse
The teacher’s responsibility is to get information from the student. Here are some suggestions for a teacher:
- Listen and feel empathy for the child.
- Gather as much information as possible.
- Remember to tell the child the abuse is not their fault.
- If there is an emergency situation, call 911 and keep an eye on the child.
Calling the hotline number at the DCPP must be done immediately after receiving the abuse report. If the teacher needs to consult with a school counselor, they should do so as quickly as possible; a teacher should call within 30 minutes.
When making the report, the teacher should have as many facts as possible. This includes observations of physical abuse, emotional abuse, or sexual abuse. A reporter gets the information and provides it to the investigator. Once the report is done, the teacher’s reporting role has ended. The progress of any investigation or any action taken later is outside their role.
The reporting teacher cannot worry about any repercussions. Once knowing of suspected child abuse, the teacher is left with few options. If there is time, the teacher can consult with others in the school and make a report to a supervisor. Often, the call to the hotline will be by the teacher with a support person, such as supervisor or specialized professional in the school.
How has the Pandemic Impacted the Reporting Process?
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted the reporting process. With many students participating in remote learning or only partially attending schools, there has been a drop-off in abuse reports. Fewer reports resulted in fewer investigations. The incidence of abuse did not decline during COVID-19, abuse was not reported because teachers and students were not together in school.
Recognizing the signs of abuse is not always easy. Potential signs are broadly defined, and behavioral signs can lead to a different conclusion for the cause. The current reporting scenario has its critics as well. There are suggestions by experts that will help teachers recognize the signs of child abuse. Some suggestions include:
- Use digital tools to do the initial analysis.
- Teachers should routinely work with experts. Teams of counselors or social workers can participate in the reporting process.
Haddonfield DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Provide Legal Assistance to Those Affected By a Child Abuse or Neglect Claim
When school is in session, teachers may see signs of abuse. However, many reports have no merit. If you are a subject of a DCPP investigation, contact the Haddonfield DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker. Complete our online form or call us at 856-795-9400 today for an initial consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.