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As you consider designing a protocol to meet your school’s needs, it is important to assess exactly what those needs and necessary resources are. Here are a few suggestions:
What staff do we have to do what?
It is often good to have someone in the key role of reporter – the person to whom children and staff come to talk about the suspected abusive or neglectful situation. In this day of cutbacks, not all schools have the same support staff. For example, while some protocols have stipulated that allegations of maltreatment should be reported to the school nurse, who would also then examine the child, other schools do not have a full-time nurse. If the nurse does have a pivotal role, what happens on the days they are not at your school? The best plan is to list or diagram the support personnel and administrators to identify their respective roles and availability. You might also want to consider these factors:
How do the children see this individual? For example, although the assistant principal may be in a good position to be contacted when teachers suspect abuse, this person may be seen by the students as someone who is in charge of discipline, or someone to whom they are sent when they are in trouble. Consequently, this individual might not be one best suited to deal with children who are being abused or neglected. Or, is the guidance counselor someone who just does scheduling – not someone to whom children might come? It might be best, although this can get tricky, to consider the receptivity of the individual to be designated as the key person rather than just considering their job description. Another approach is to handle this administratively and have the principal do all the reporting to DCF (i.e., the “Designated Reporter” as allowed by the 51A law), while another person is identified as the one who talks to the children and teachers.
Who, in the school, has the training to become involved in reporting? It is certainly advisable for the people in key roles to be knowledgeable of DCF procedures. One person may wish to develop a knowledge of what will happen when allegations are reported, and a rapport with the local DCF office, so that reporting and intervention can go much more smoothly. It is vital that this person have confidence in the system. The system does work when accessed properly. If those reporting have little confidence in DCF’s ability to help, the child may not be best served.