Expanding the awareness of child abuse

Expanding the awareness of child abuse

(Fla.) Every employee in one of Florida’s largest school districts would be required to participate in annual training to report child abuse and neglect as part of a plan pending before district trustees to assure the wellbeing of students.

Broward County Public Schools is considering updating its mandatory reporting policy to include any district personnel who may come into contact with children, including administrators, bus drivers and cafeteria and custodial staff.

“Any member of the community can prevent child abuse by recognizing the signs and reporting it,” said Kurt Kelly, chief executive officer for the Florida Coalition for Children, an advocacy group for neglected and at-risk children, in an email. “Yearly trainings provide employees with the latest information on how to spot abuse.”

State and local child protective services estimate that 686,000 children across the country were victims of maltreatment in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Of that total, more than three quarters were victims of neglect – 18 percent of physical abuse and 9 percent of sexual abuse. Other instances included emotional and threatened abuse, parent’s substance abuse or a lack of supervision.

In Florida this year so far, four children have died due to inflicted trauma, according to the state Department of Children and Families. There are currently 111 cases of child fatalities under investigation.

Broward County, which lies directly between Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, had the highest rate of abuse in the state among children between 5 and 11 years old who experienced abuse from 2012 to 2014, according to the Florida Department of Health. Palm Beach and Miami-Dade had among the five highest rates in the state as well.

To address this, district employees would learn warning signs that a student may be being abused or neglected, and receive training from the Children and Families department on reporting child abuse and neglect to the Florida Abuse Hotline.

Annual training sessions for school staff, including coaches, assistant coaches and athletic directors, was mandated statewide in California in 2014. That same year, nearly 500,000 allegations of child abuse and neglect were reported compared to approximately 487,000 reports of maltreatment in 2012, according to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office.

States and districts across the country have begun expanding the list of mandated reporters – those who can be penalized under the law for knowingly failing to report the abuse or neglect of a child – to include teachers and other employees of school campuses.

Because district staff members are likely to spend more time with a child than any other adult throughout the week, “reporting child abuse is of the upmost importance for all teachers, bus drivers, school employees and community members,” Kelly said.

In addition to providing training for adults to spot warnings of child maltreatment, some states have begun to include lessons of what constitutes “good touching” and “bad touching” in early health education so that students can tell an adult if they are being sexually abused.

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