We do all we can to protect our students; it’s part of our commitment to connecting with and nurturing every child. Too many of our students bear the scars of abuse and trauma, unfortunately, and they need us not only to provide environments conducive to learning, but to create safe, compassionate spaces for their healing.
There was a time when child abuse was in the shadows, rarely discussed and only hesitantly acknowledged. Today we’re better at acknowledging the ravages of child abuse and responding to traumatized kids. But there’s a lot more we must do.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and information is available to help you recognize the signs that a child may be in an abusive situation.
The counselors of the National Education Association (NEA) are well-trained in safeguarding children, but they on average are responsible for 500 students each. All of us—no matter what our job titles—must constantly be on the lookout for signs that our students are in abusive situations.
When a child is in an abusive situation, what are some steps we can take? Here’s what one of our members, guidance counselor Maxine B. Mosley of Henry J. McLaughlin Jr. Middle School in Manchester, N.H., who holds a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies and is certified as a school counselor, associate school psychologist and principal, advises: “So many of our children and youth are subjected to abuse. Abuse comes in many forms and is not easily detected. The most difficult is emotional abuse as we cannot see the broken bones and physical bruises. Insults, swearing, comments that we would not want any child to hear, are frequent, pervasive, and constant in many children’s lives.
“As in all aspects of our positions in public schools, developing meaningful relationships with our students is critical so that ALL children and youth feel safe sharing their safety concerns and their pain with us.
“Listening and reporting are priority components of combating abuse. Making time for a student to tell us their stories, being aware of changes in their behaviors and including the appropriate agencies and support personnel are the most important initial steps.
“Never indicate when a student reports abuse that we can ‘fix’ the problem. More importantly, be there for that student if they need to talk. Do not dig for information. Report abuse the moment you suspect that the student is in an abusive situation, and above all else, do not make the student’s situation personal for you. Maintain your professional stance and boundaries. Be watchful and available to the students in need and know the signs of abuse (preventchildabuse.org).”
Check the NEA website for more information on best practices for supporting and educating students who have experienced abuse (nea.org).
Lily Eskelsen García is the President of the National Education Association.