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Home / Definitions and Considerations / The Need for a Protocol

Home / Definitions and Considerations / The Need for a Protocol

The Need for a Protocol

As discussed earlier in the section on Scope, the prevalence of child abuse and neglect in the United States is a national tragedy. The purpose of a child abuse and neglect reporting protocol is to help guide one’s involvement in the intervention process. Administrators, staff, faculty, and volunteers should be involved in this process for three key reasons:

First, the effects of abuse and neglect on children are as much a detriment to learning as is any other type of learning disability.

In addition to teaching, educators also have a responsibility to do all they can to address issues that impede a child’s ability to learn. Child maltreatment impacts both immediate and long-term physical, emotional, and mental health ; bonding with caretakers; the ability to concentrate and to learn; and can give rise to behavioral problems. All of these can be barriers to a child’s successful school experience.

Secondly, the teacher is one of the most significant people in a child’s life, in many cases, second only to the parent.

If it is the parent who is abusing or neglecting the child, that child needs the teacher as an ally, someone they can trust and go to for help. This is especially true for elementary age children who develop strong ties with their teacher. But even middle and high school age students will often establish a relationship with a particular teacher or counselor whom they trust and to whom they feel they can turn when in crisis.

And finally, in every state, educators are mandated by law to report suspected child abuse and neglect.

Although each state has a different set of regulations and laws regarding child maltreatment, educators are mandated reporters in every one (Crosson-Tower, 2002, 2003, 2021).

But, you may ask, why do we need a protocol for reporting? A protocol is, in a sense, an investment – an investment in a rational, thorough, caring, and fair handling of each and every child maltreatment situation. When child abuse or neglect is suspected, it is often due to a crisis. Or, when a child discloses, or when an educator decides that it is now time to report, it may certainly feel like a crisis. The events that follow may take place in quick succession with little time to think.

When faced with the reporting of child abuse and neglect, it is not uncommon for the educator to feel vulnerable. We often question whether the situation was as bad as we believed it to be. Were these symptoms really indicative of child abuse or neglect? “If I report,” educators speculate, “will I get the reputation for being someone who tries to make trouble?”

A well thought-out protocol is invaluable in enabling the educator to handle a crisis situation quickly and effectively, and goes a long way to make reporting of concerns or suspicions better for both the teacher and the child.

There are some situations in which the educator may feel that they do not know enough about the type of abuse and need encouragement that their instincts are accurate.

Having a protocol provides administrators, faculty and staff with support.

Not only may an educator consult with other professionals and benefit from their expertise, but having a protocol also makes one feel less alone in their suspicion that what is being observed is abuse or neglect. The supported person feels less vulnerable.

According to state law, the educator who reports suspected abuse or neglect in good faith cannot be held liable for doing so (Also see M.G.L., c119, § 51A in Appendix E). Yet, some educators have expressed a fear about being legally vulnerable. A protocol provides not only a record of the procedure to ensure accountability, but also provides a sense of protection for the reporter. Knowing that you are mandated to report, and that you have followed the expected procedure gives further support and assurance that you are not alone.

If you have recognized that a protocol is essential, the content of this Manual and the implementation guidance, model forms, flowcharts, and tools on the Safe Kids Thrive website in the section on Reporting will enable you to develop one which is tailored to your particular school. Not all schools are alike. Each school has a different population and, therefore, different needs. It is important that you design a protocol that fits your needs, and not simply adopt one from another school.

Perhaps you already have a protocol for reporting suspected child abuse and neglect. This Manual will enable you to review and perhaps fine-tune your protocol. The Safe Kids Thrive website also has both a short, downloadable self-assessment tool and a comprehensive child sexual abuse prevention evaluation tool (See Standard 5) to help you assess the elements of your reporting structure. Or you may discover after reading this material that you have a superior protocol. You should then feel confident in the knowledge that you are intervening in the lives of children who are much in need of your help.


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Monitoring Behavior
How-To in 3 Steps

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Step 1

Developing the Monitoring Protocol

  • Determine how your Code of Conduct is being adhered to and where additional policy or training may be needed.
  • Include language indicating all staff have the responsibility to observe and report inappropriate or concerning behaviors displayed by staff or by youth. 
  • Consult your child safety team to identify areas of strength and higher risk activities where monitoring would be especially important.
  • Define the people who must be informed when staff, volunteers, or children observe inappropriate or harmful behavior.
  • Outline the steps all staff and volunteers must follow when reporting suspected abuse.

Step 2

Promoting a Culture of Safety

  • Encourage staff to view safety as a priority and mutual responsibility, encourage questions, establish ongoing communication, and provide support to build trust.
  • Provide positive feedback when observing expected and appropriate behaviors. 
  • Ensure leadership is present, models appropriate behavior, supports positive interactions, and intervenes when needed. 
  • Conduct annual surveys and audits to gather information from staff, youth, and parents including questions about boundaries and appropriate behaviors.
  • Equip parents with information about your child sexual abuse prevention plans.

Step 3

Sustaining the Monitoring Protocol

  • Use individual supervision, performance reviews, and staff meetings to talk about the Code of Conduct and provide staff feedback on observed behaviors. 
  • Provide ongoing trainings that reinforce your Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics. 
  • Ensure all concerns are addressed and any harmful behaviors are reported to the Department of Children and Families and law enforcement.
  • Review the results of the staff surveys and internal audits to identify areas for improvement, staff accountability, and transparency. 
  • Assess your protocol and implement changes based on findings.