The Role of Teachers in Preventing Child Abuse

The Role of Teachers in Preventing Child Abuse

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There are various strategies used within schools to tackle child
abuse. In order to discuss the strategies fully there is a need to
define what exactly is meant by child abuse. It is also necessary to
be aware of what advice and guidance there is offered through
Government documentation and circulars to schools on their role in
preventing child abuse. Having put child abuse and the school's role
into context, then the strategies used by the school as a whole and by
the teacher within the classroom can be discussed.

Therefore what exactly is meant by child abuse? There is a tendency to
automatically assume that abuse means sexual abuse. The 1986 draft
report by the Department of Social Security [DHSS], Child Abuse -
Working Together defined child abuse as falling into six categories:
physical abuse, physical neglect, failure to thrive, emotional abuse,
sexual abuse and potential abuse. The present definition for child
abuse according to Department for Education and Skills [DfES] Circular
10/95 has been narrowed down to include only four categories:

Ø sexual abuse -physical signs or a substantial behaviour change

Ø emotional abuse -excessive dependence or attention seeking

Ø physical abuse - regular broken bones, bruises, lacerations and

Ø physical neglect - inadequate clothing, poor growth, hunger, or
apparent deficient nutrition

These are the guidelines from which schools work.

However, what we as a society perceive as abuse may in other
cultures/societies be seen as normal practice. There are many cultures
for example where young girls, twelve years of age are taken as
brides. Much publicity has been given recently to the plight of Muslim
women under the Taliban regime. Females have been treated as property,
not as equal citizens and suffered as a consequence. The guideline
produced by Liverpool City Council for its schools actually contains
within it a policy on female genital mutilation [Liverpool City
Council, 2000]. This form of 'abuse seems totally abhorrent to our
society, but again is an accepted form of behaviour by other

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It was not until the publication of The DHSS Working Together paper in
1988 that teachers were officially identified as having a significant
role to play in the prevention of child abuse. Circular 10/95 [DfES,
1995] instructs the education service on its role in helping to
protect children from abuse. It also goes further on this point and
acknowledges that teachers are in a unique position to recognise and
therefore report any signs of child abuse. However according to the
Circular this is not the only role that schools and teachers can
undertake. Schools, it says, have a definite role to play in primary
prevention. The school's role is to monitor and refer and to keep
children safe. In 1999 the update of the DHSS Working Together Paper
outlines the school's role very succinctly.

"They can play a part in the prevention of abuse and neglect through
their own policies and procedures for safeguarding children and
through the curriculum" [p.14, Working Together, 1999].

School policies and procedures as mentioned in the Working Together
Paper [DHSS, 1999] greatly assist in keeping children safe and in
preventing child abuse. Circular 10/95 [DfES] offers

guidance to all Local Education Authorities [LEAs] on the procedures
for reporting any suspected cases of child abuse. Most LEAs follow
this standard format. From September 1996 all inspections by Ofsted
under section 10 must assure that all schools comply with the
requirements of Circular 10/95. Under these requirements all schools
must have a Child Protection Co-ordinator [CPC]. All school staff
should share suspicions/ disclosures of child abuse with the CPC or
the Headteacher. In many schools the Headteacher takes on the role of
the CPC. The school must keep confidential records of any such
suspicions/ disclosures. In addition schools must monitor children who
have been identified as at risk. All staff need to be aware of local
procedures so that information is effectively passed on to the
relevant professional bodies. This can be achieved by ensuring that
LEAs and schools provide and support child protection training
regularly for all school staff, teaching and non-teaching, to ensure
skills and expertise are up to date.

However reporting and monitoring only go so far. The policies that a
school develops go towards creating within the school a safe
environment where children are able to feel safe and valued. Children
wherever possible should be offered the opportunity to participate in
determining school policies, which have a direct impact on them such
as behaviour, bullying and equal opportunities. There is a move
recently to rename a school's behaviour policy to policy for effective
teaching and learning. Immediately this creates a positive impression
[St Teresa's 2001]. Many schools are now forming School Councils,
which are actively supported by the National Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Children [NSPCC] in their Full Stop campaign
[2000]. By encouraging children's participation, this will encourage
their ownership of the policies, which will increase the chances of
the policies being implemented successfully. Children may also be
involved in peer support schemes, which are again supported by the
NSPCC campaign. Scoresby argues that children's involvement in school
councils offer a way of encouraging greater dialogue between teachers
and pupils and she concedes that many of these schemes are pivotal to
reducing bullying and promoting positive attitudes to behaviour
[Utting, 1998].

Yet teachers can play a major role in prevention of child abuse by
changing behaviour and attitudes via the curriculum [Parton, 1991].
There are two levels within this area: the delivery and classroom
management techniques used by the teacher and the actual curriculum
content. The curriculum may be used to raise children's awareness and
build confidence so that they have a range of contacts and strategies
to ensure their protection. Braun agrees that a school curriculum
which seeks to empower children and enable them to develop personal
qualities that could help to protect them from abuse is much wider
than simply telling children to say 'No ' to strangers [Braun, 1990].

There are three main areas of the curriculum, which facilitate this.
These are Literacy, Religious Education and Personal, Social and
Health Education. Children need to be offered opportunities to discuss
their emotions, relationships and bullying. They can be helped to
understand what is and is not acceptable behaviour towards them and
how to speak up if they have worries and concerns. Through their very
nature these three areas lend themselves very well. There are
available many popular children's books such as 'Not Now, Bernard' by
David McKee and 'The Queen's Knickers' by Nicholas Allan which can be
used within the literacy hour to initiate discussion about how to
attract an adult's attention and what is acceptable in society and
what is not.

Helfer contends that children need more than being given the
opportunity to discuss issues, they need what he refers to as 'life
training skills' [National Clearinghouse]. These skills focus on four
definite areas: the ability to solve problems, form judgements, make
decisions and make choices. The curriculum provides many opportunities
to develop these skills. Other areas of the curriculum apart from
those previously mentioned can now play a part. However it is not only
the curriculum content that is important, now the teaching methods and
styles come under the focus. Children need to be given responsibility
and independence for their own learning, to form their own opinions
and make mistakes. One of the methods in which these skills and skills
such as assertiveness and clear communication can be developed is
through role-play situations. Circle time and interactive learning
techniques focus on collaboration and attempt to equip children with
personal resources with which to make positive contributions and cope
with peer pressure.

In America, there are courses run to help children protect themselves,
especially against sexual abuse. Some of the programs bring in experts
to educate the children, while others train the teacher to conduct the
training seminar or integrate the information into their curriculum.
From recent evaluation of such programs, Finkelhor has concluded that
not only did children grasp the basic concepts but they also
communicated more openly about abuse both in the classroom and with
their parents. The findings support this type of training for children
[National Clearinghouse].

Schools need to make parents aware of the school's responsibility for
the welfare of their children. This should of course be a part of the
school's ongoing work of developing trust and good relationships with
parents. However schools should also ensure that parents are aware of
the school's actual child protection policy and the fact that this may
require them on occasion to refer cases to other agencies in the
interest of the child. Webb and Vulliamy [BERJ, 2001] suggest that
listening to parents and providing assistance and /or contacting other
agencies which could help them was regarded as vital for building
positive relationships with parents which could then be used to secure
improved progress for their children. They imply that this is
primarily the role of the headteacher but from experience and
observation I would argue that the class teacher also takes on this
role. The class teacher is usually more approachable and the person
who is seen on a daily basis. S/he has most contact with the child. If
there is a problem it is often the case that the teacher makes the
first approach to the parent/guardian in order to undercover what it
is that perhaps may be upsetting a child.

Within the government guidelines there would appear that teachers have
a major role to play in the prevention of child abuse. The strategies
used are two sided. There are the whole school policies and procedures
and there is the curriculum content and delivery. However Braun argues
that there are limits to what teachers can actually do. He contends
that it would be naïve to believe that child abuse could be prevented
in the future in total [Braun, 1990]. The view of what constitutes
child abuse varies from society to society.


Braun, D,


Responding To Child Abuse


Bedford Square Press



Child Abuse - Working Together




Working Together To Safeguard Children


Liverpool City Council


Child Protection Guidelines


Parton, N


Governing The Family



Ed by Utting, D


Children's Services Now And In The Future


National Children's Bureau

Webb, R & Vulliamy, G


The Primary Teacher's Role In Child Protection

British Educational Research Journal Vol. 27, No. 1

Full Stop Campaign

Preventing Child Abuse And Neglect
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