As part of my previous job with the YMCA, I took a Child Abuse Prevention class where we covered the same issues we discussed in today’s class session. As a teacher, we will undoubtedly be put into a position of having to report a parent or caregiver for what we perceive as abusive or neglectful behavior. There were a lot of hypothetical situations and discussion points brought up that seemed to generate more questions and conversation that our time allowed for, but I did walk away knowing the following things:
1) My first and foremost responsibility as a teacher is to the student. Building a classroom and school community with families is an imperative part of providing an education to students, and this requires a level of trust and rapport with those families. A good point was brought up in class today that it feels a bit sneaky to go directly to authorities with a suspicion of abuse/neglect rather than engage the family in a conversation. But I’m sure we could all agree we have to do what’s in the best interest of the child, and as long as I can justify my decision to call CPS, then I hope the classroom/school community will understand.
2) Better be safe (report) than sorry (not report). Because we are mandated reporters, if we see evidence that one of our students is being abused/neglected, then we are obligated by law to file a report. Not only under the law, but morally, I would rather err on the side of caution and make my suspicions known to my administrator and/or authorities and know they are investigating further into the family than I would be capable of doing.
3) But before coming to a conclusion, consider the cultural context of the child and her family. We also talked about how different families will have different cultural norms that shape how they treat their children. We were reminded of this through a passage from The Spirit Catches You and we’ll have to use our best judgement and realize that what we may consider inappropriate in our own belief system may be completely appropriate in another family’s.
Although it’s a very complicated issue colored mostly gray, I do think that the best advice I took away from the class was to use my best judgement, use the evidence in front of me, utilize the resources available to support these kinds of issues (administrators, school counselors, etc.), and always do what’s best for the student.