9 Challenges Our Students Face in School Today Part II: Child Abuse & Neglect

Challenges are always around our students. Whether the struggle is submitting homework on time or staying focus in class, problems can cause our students to fail. The 9 challenges students face in school in this article are poverty, homeless families, child abuse and neglect, bullying (including cyber bullying), violence, obesity and eating disorders, sex and pregnancy, suicide, drugs, and dropping out. This article reviews the challenges of child abuse and neglect.

Child abuse and child neglect are issues that we would rather avoid. Unfortunately, they are all too real and so prevalent that, as teachers, we must rise to the challenge. Chances are that you will encounter abused and neglected children in your classes.

When we think of child abuse, physical abuse is the first image that comes to mind. There are many other forms of abuse, including sexual abuse, verbal and emotional abuse, neglect, and maltreatment. Sadly, much of the abuse experienced by children is still hidden. Children who are abused often do not speak of it because they feel guilty, may feel they did something to bring the abuse on themselves, or have been told not to tell by the abuser. The hidden aspect of child abuse makes it difficult to assess exactly how widespread the problem is. In 2008, 3.3 million cases of child abuse were reported in the United States, resulting in 2 million investigations. Twenty-four percent (772,000) of these investigations resulted in the conclusion that child abuse had taken place. Of these cases, 71% suffered neglect, 16% suffered physical abuse, 9% suffered sexual abuse, and 7% suffered psychological maltreatment. Sadly, more than 1,700 of these children died due to the abuse and/or neglect (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010).

In 1974, Congress enacted the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). This act provided a solid definition for child abuse. The 1996 version of the CAPTA states,
The term “child abuse and neglect” means, at a minimum, any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker that results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.

The current definition includes four categories of abuse: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect. When a teacher encounters the problem of child abuse, regardless of the state where they teach, they have a legal responsibility to report it to the authorities. This means all teachers need to know the signs of abuse.

These include:
1. Injuries that are seen again and again. These can be bruises, burns, and welts on the body, particularly on the head or abdomen. Children may also wear inappropriately concealing clothing to hide the physical abuse.
2. Child stealing food, having a hard time staying awake, or having poor hygiene and an unclean and neglected physical appearance.
3. A sudden decline in academic performance.

Child abuse is a serious problem that must not be taken lightly. Every state has different laws governing the process of reporting child abuse and following up on cases, but it’s important for teachers to remember that if child abuse goes unreported the educator with the suspicion is held liable.

Sometimes teachers may feel a lack of support from administration or may second-guess their own gut feelings based on evidence. But teachers are liable for legal sanctions if child abuse is ignored, so educators must know the proper procedures for protecting students from harm outside the classroom. Teachers don’t need to prove that abuse is taking place. Reasonable cause is grounds to make a report, even if the results don’t end up pointing to abuse or neglect of the student.

Teachers have a few options for reporting suspected child abuse. The first is to go to administration with the claim and go through the steps in the district and state. If a teacher feels ignored by administration, a call to the local child protective services office is acceptable. Teachers should be prepared to give their name. Anonymous calls are not advisable. The burden of proof does not rest with the person filing the report. Reports of child abuse are investigated by professional caseworkers, but accurate and thorough information from teachers can speed up the process, bringing safety to children more quickly. No laws dictate how teachers should follow up on child abuse reporting. Teachers should not simply view the issue as out of their hands once an initial report has been made.

Child abuse and neglect is a serious challenge. Be aware of signs or situations that reflect these problems among your students. In the classroom seek to assist your students as best as you can and continue to educate them. Continue to read the other parts of this series to learn more about the challenges students face today.

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