Although these situations can be challenging for all parties involved, it's important to keep your student's best interests at the forefront of your mind and to act in accordance with your district's and state's requirements. Here's how you should proceed.
- Do Your Research - You need to take action at the first sign of trouble. If this is your first time reporting suspected abuse or you are working in a new school district, arm yourself with information. You must follow the requirements specific to your school and state. All 50 of the United States require your compliance. So go online and find your state's site for Child Protective Services, or similar. Read about how to file your report and make a plan of action.
- Don't Second-Guess Yourself - Unless you witness abuse firsthand, you can never be 100% certain about what occurs in a child's home. But don't let that sliver of doubt cloud your judgment to the point where you ignore your legal responsibility. Even if you simply suspect a problem, you must report it. You can clarify in your report that you suspect abuse, but are not certain. Know that your report will be treated with care so that the family will not know who filed it. The government experts will know how best to proceed, and you must trust their ability to weed through the suspicions and find out the truth.
- Keep a Watchful Eye on Your Student - If you suspect that one of your students is in a vulnerable situation, make sure to pay special attention to his or her behavior, needs, and schoolwork. Notice any major changes in his or her habits. Of course, you wouldn't want to go overboard by coddling the child or making excuses for poor behavior. However, it is important to remain vigilant and report any further suspicions to authorities again, as many times as is necessary in order to protect the child's well being.
- Follow the Progress - Familiarize yourself with the long-term procedures that Child Protective Services will follow with the family in question. Introduce yourself to the case worker, and ask for updates on what conclusions are reached and which actions are taken to help the family. The government agents will work with the family to provide supportive services, such as counseling, in order to guide them along the path to being better caretakers. The last resort is to remove the child from his or her home.
- Remain Committed to Protecting Children - Dealing with child abuse, suspected or confirmed, is one of the most serious and stressful parts of being a classroom teacher. No matter how unpleasant the experience may be for you, don't let the process deter you from reporting each and every case of suspected abuse that you observe during your time in this profession. Not only is it your legal obligation, but you can rest easily at night knowing that you took the tough actions required to protect the students under your care.
- Document all of your concerns, with dates and times, in order to support your claims.
- Gather tips and support from veteran colleagues.
- Procure the support of your principal and ask him or her for advice if needed.
- Remain confident that you are doing the right thing, no matter how hard it may be.
What You Need
- Knowledge of State and District Requirements for State-Mandated Reporting