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The Impact of Culture

With the increasing diversity in the population of the United States, and therefore in our schools, comes the need to recognize the impact of culture on the recognition of child maltreatment and the educator’s response to it. Some cultures have values, attitudes and practices that, while accepted in the country of origin, may be considered to be abusive or neglectful in this country. For example, some ethnic groups favor corporal punishment, even to the point of being severe, as a form of discipline. Other groups have practices that leave scars that make it appear that the child has been abused. For example, “cao gío” or coin rubbing used in some Vietnamese families to ward off illness may leave scars that look like welts. If one is teaching in an area where a particular cultural group is prevalent, it is advisable to learn about their customs. However, DCF workers are trained in cultural differences as well and if there is any question on your part that a child is being abused or neglected, a call to the DCF office is warranted.

In addition, some cultural groups are more open about discussing their family issues than others. It is not always easy for us, as those who observe and must report child maltreatment, to discern what are cultural issues from actual abuse or neglect. It may also be difficult to separate our values from our interpretation of what we observe.

Responding to cultural differences suggests the need for educators to have training in cultural sensitivity, but even this may not always suffice in all situations. Having a knowledgeable CPT with whom to discuss suspected maltreatment can be especially helpful in instances where culture is a factor. And having a representative of DCF available to that team helps to support staff in making the appropriate decision about reporting.


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