As a society, and as educators, we are able to learn how to identify, report and intervene in cases of child maltreatment. However, preventing child abuse and neglect would be much preferable to dealing with the consequences once maltreatment has occurred. It is not acceptable that children are physically or emotionally harmed, neglected, or killed. There is a great need to address the underlying causes of child maltreatment, including but not limited to:
- Lack of Knowledge
- Addiction Issues.
Please read pages 47 through 55 of the Child Abuse Source Book. This will appear as pages 55-63 when you download the Source Book as a pdf file. This section will provide an overview of the school district’s capacity to respond to the needs of maltreated children, training recommendations, prevention programs in the classroom, and school and community-based strategies and activities to support prevention.
Broward County Public Schools implemented Child Abuse Services in 1984, and much has been learned about the characteristics and needs of our students and their families. Our county is rich in cultural diversity and has families who have emigrated from many countries to seek new lives in the United States. Broward County is now an urban center in Florida, yet we have many families with rural roots. These differences in culture and geography produce significant opportunities to learn about the world and about our relationships with others. But they also produce conflict in some areas, especially how to best raise and discipline children.
Everyone agrees that children need structure in their lives, limits to their range of behavior, and discipline. Yet, when asked about the way to discipline children, many diverging voices are heard. There are often almost as many different opinions as people involved in the discussion. Florida law permits parent to use Corporal Discipline (VIDEO CLIP) as long as it doesn’t harm a child. However, injuries that occur as a result of inappropriate or excessively harsh disciplinary action may be considered abusive.
Teachers, administrators, and student support personnel may contribute to prevention by opening a dialog with parents about discipline. This is the least intrusive means to prevent physical abuse, which is our most frequently reported form of maltreatment. School personnel are able to provide knowledge to parents about their children’s developmental level and behavioral capabilities. When having parent conferences, staff may gently inquire about a student’s behavior at home, how the parent uses discipline to correct behavior, and whether the discipline is working. If the parent is frustrated, staff may acknowledge that parenting is sometimes difficult and offer assistance. We may work with parents to target one or two behaviors, and help parents learn new strategies and techniques for change, using less physically punitive means. Or we may refer parents to outside agencies for assistance. Many schools have mental health partnerships that may help to address behavioral issues and discipline.
All of our schools may offer referrals to the district’s free Family Counseling Program. Guidance personnel have information about the program, and family counselors are quite effective at helping families with discipline problems. They also offer parent education groups.
Free parent education groups are also provided by community agencies. Family Centralprovides parent education groups focused on nurturing skills and use of non-violent discipline. Contact them at (954) 724-3842 for more information.
Our efforts to teach students peaceful means of problem resolution, peer and conflict mediation, and character education should all contribute to developing a new generation of future parents who will nurture their children, discipline with less force, and prevent child abuse.
School attendance is also a concern with regard to prevention. In the past few years, there have been two child abuse deaths in Broward County of very young children with school-age siblings who had excessive absences. In these situations, no referral had been given to the school social worker based on the attendance problems. There were clearly evident indicators of maltreatment in the homes: dangerous physical environment or underweight, dirty, unkempt pre-school aged children. One home visit, one call to the Florida abuse hotline, may have helped to save a life. It is recommended that referral be made to the school social worker whenever there is excessive absence of elementary students. Missed opportunities may be deadly.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Broward County Public Schools supports community groups and activities that increase awareness of child maltreatment during this month. We conduct an annual book drive that seeks to improve the affective bonding between parents and children through reading to young children. We sponsor a School Board resolution for Blue Ribbon Week during April, and school personnel wear blue ribbons during this week to increase awareness. Please think about ways that your school or department may contribute to child abuse prevention and share your ideas with your child abuse designee and administrator.