Over 3 million referrals for suspected child abuse or neglect were made to Child Protective Services (CPS) in the US in 2009. Reports of suspicion of child maltreatment are more likely to come from educational personnel than from any other professional or non-professional reporting source. However, research consistently raises concerns as to the quantity and quality of reports by this important community resource.
In a recent issue of Children and Schools (July 2013), Kathryn S. Krase, PhD, JD, MSW, an assistant professor at Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus, reports on a study which examined the reports made by schools to CPS, comparing reports from educational personnel across states. She provides the study findings visually through maps using geographic information systems technology.
The category “educational personnel” include teachers, school social workers and other staff employed by public and private schools. Teachers especially are essential to community efforts to combat child maltreatment. Their privileged position with regard to individual students better allow them to identify the signs of child abuse and neglect. Teachers have the opportunity to observe a child’s behavior and cognitive development. Also, children often trust their teachers more so than other non-family members, and may feel more comfortable confiding in teachers about abuse and neglect.
However, teachers have not all been trained in either looking for the signs of abuse or in reporting them. There is no consistency in knowledge about or comfort with reporting procedures. Despite their role as mandated reporters, the training for teachers and other educational personnel is often lacking in quality and substance, if provided at all. Inadequate training has been cited as a factor in the failure of educational personnel to report suspicions where required by law. Existing training programs for school personnel are often offered through professional certification programs or during in-service trainings, although these programs are not necessarily required by law, or even evaluated for effectiveness.
In comparing reports made to CPS by educational personnel from across the US, Krase found the following:
- In 2008 over 3.3 million reports were made to CPS from all reporting sources; almost 17 percent of these reports came from educational personnel.
- The percentage of reports to CPS from educational personnel varied widely from state to state, from 2.9 percent in North Carolina to 25.7 in Pennsylvania.
- For every 1,000 children in the US, almost 8 reports were made to CPS by educational personnel, varying from 1.75 reports per thousand in North Carolina to 18.17 per thousand in the District of Columbia.
- The percentage of reports made by educational personnel which were subsequently substantiated ranged from 3.4 percent in Arizona to 37.4 percent in Massachusetts.
- When compared to other professional and non-professional reporting sources, reports from educational personnel were the least likely to be substantiated.
The findings suggest that educational personnel need greater training in identifying and reporting signs of child abuse and neglect. Training efforts need to be evidence-based and locally focused to effectively improve the ability of educational personnel to make reports that protect children and assist families in need. The goal of such training should be to improve the overall quality of the reports and to decrease the high levels of unsubstantiated reports.
Krase further writes:
Instead of training professionals to report any and all suspicions of child abuse or maltreatment, training should be specifically adapted to the experiences and concerns of a particular community so that more families at risk are identified before children are irreparably harmed and fewer families are unnecessarily exposed to an already over-burdened and intrusive child welfare system.