As defined in Florida Statute 39, “harm” to a child’s health or welfare can
occur when a caregiver inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon the child physical, mental, or emotional injury.
This may include:
- Many types of physical injury,
- Purposely giving a child poison,
- alcohol, drugs, or other damaging substances,
- Parental alcohol or substance use which puts a child at risk (driving under the influence with a child in the vehicle, leaving alcohol/drugs out where a child may easily access them),
- Leaving a child without appropriate adult supervision or arrangement appropriate for the child’s age or mental or physical condition,
- Inappropriate or excessively harsh disciplinary action.
Harm also includes:
- Committing, or allowing to be committed, sexual battery against the child
- Allowing, encouraging, or forcing the sexual exploitation of a child
- Exploiting a child through causing or allowing the child to suffer, be subject to pain or to health and/or life threatening conditions
Threatened harm occurs when an adult caregiver makes explicit threats to a child of physical or sexual injury, abandonment, or neglect. It may involve threatened beating, or the use of cruel and unusual punishment for the purpose of inflicting pain without leaving physical marks. It may involve subjecting the child to an unsafe or dangerous environment, such as:
- Exposure to domestic violence
- Living in a “crack” house
- Living in a home with a sexual predator
- Accompanying a caregiver who is engaged in prostitution
- Prostitution of the child, or allowing the child to be used for pornography
- Living in a home with ongoing domestic violence
- Living in a home which is unsafe (rotten floor boards, exposed wiring, insect infestation, human/animal feces on surfaces).
Threatened harm cuts across all categories of child maltreatment.
Threatened harm may also exist in certain circumstances involving gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered students. These situations need to be handled with great sensitivity so as to avoid further damage to family relationships.
Students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered present special issues related to child abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Sometimes they are targeted by parents or other caregivers for maltreatment as a result of their sexual identity or orientation. When physical injury, emotional damage, or outright abandonment results, these situations fall under the mandatory reporting requirement of Florida Statute 39.201.
Sometimes school personnel are the perpetrators or allow other students or staff to injure or psychologically maltreat the gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered student. Criminal and/or civil liability may result. These actions are also in violation of the Code of Ethics of the Education Profession in the State of Florida (State Board of Education Administrative Rule 6B-1.001) and the Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession in the State of Florida (State Board of EducationAdministrative Rule 6B-1.006).
School personnel are required to encourage and support behavior which reflects a feeling for the dignity and worth of all students. School personnel may have their own thoughts and feelings about sexual identity and orientation, but may not act on these thoughts and feelings in ways that discriminate against or disparage students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. School staff should also take care to avoid behaving in ways that cause discomfort or discriminate against families of students when the parents or caregivers are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. Reference: School Board Policy 4001.1
If you are approached by a student who wishes to talk with you about issues of sexual identity or orientation, please do not turn away. If the student has questions that you cannot answer, or you feel uncomfortable about dealing with the situation on your own, refer the student to student support services personnel: guidance counselor, school social worker, school psychologist, or family counselor. If concerns about possible abuse, abandonment, or neglect are present, you should consult with the child abuse designee at your school to determine whether a mandatory reporting situation exists.
Be discreet and preserve the confidentiality of your contacts with students and families to the extent that you are able by law. If harassment of students is occurring broadly in your classroom, speak with an administrator and student support personnel about providing educational information to your students. If harassment is being targeted toward a particular student by a specific individual or group, contact your administrator immediately for appropriate intervention and support.