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Projections for the Future

Recent research indicates that, despite year-to-year fluctuations, various forms of child abuse and maltreatment, including both reported and substantiated allegations, have declined over the past decade and a half. 178 , 179 , 180 Although encouraging, we must not lose sight of the fact that millions of children in the United States continue to be maltreated and victimized every year. They are among our most vulnerable citizens and deserve our protection.

The more violent our society becomes, the more involved children are in abusive situations. It is critical that school personnel fully understand their roles and responsibilities relative to the reporting of child abuse and neglect, that they work to increase their knowledge of prevention strategies, and are aware of and collaborate with the range of intervention and prevention services available.

As the opioid epidemic remains prevalent, children will continue to be exposed to parents and family members who are addicted to drugs, and infants will continue to be born addicted. The effects on the children are myriad. From developmental problems to fetal alcohol syndrome, children feel not only the physical effects but the emotional ones as well. For example, it is becoming more common for children to experience the trauma of a family member’s overdose. In addition to educators being informed about the effects of these substances, prevention programs can be helpful in attempting to intervene in this national problem.

Children also continue to be the victims of domestic violence at home. Even if the child is not physically injured, the emotional scars of fear, powerlessness, and rage take their toll. DCF is addressing this problem through expanded training initiatives, and there are domestic violence specialists available to all area offices. Thus, children who witness one parent’s abuse by the other can also be helped

Many of the social problems of today will be eased by education, awareness, and preventive action. Where better to promote such awareness than in school? Prevention programs may not only help the children of tomorrow, but may identify the children who are suffering today. And, through school-sponsored programs like classes and support groups, parents can learn better parenting skills and be more effective in their roles. In fact, the educator is in an important position to help both children and parents. How many adults owe their survival through a difficult childhood to the perseverance of one concerned educator?

While the school as a whole is important in preventing child maltreatment, it is the individual who is often in a position of carrying out these efforts. As mentioned previously, reporting suspected child maltreatment is necessary to prevent it from continuing. The attitude of the reporter can affect the progress the family is able to make once the report is filed. The educator, who recognizes the strengths of both children and their parents and is supportive and available to the family throughout the investigation, treatment, and rehabilitation process, helps the family maintain its dignity and protects the child.

But simply implementing a safety and abuse prevention framework as outlined in this Manual is not the same as sustaining its effectiveness over time. It is critically important that school leadership speak regularly with staff about the commitment to maintain a school environment that is conducive to the safety of children, and the importance of what the individual teacher does to support that commitment. Child abuse is neither a pleasant topic of conversation, nor an issue that most people are comfortable discussing.

But your attitude will go a long way to maintaining the required vigilance and openness required to deal with it effectively. You can learn more about strategies to implement and sustain systemic organizational change on the Safe Kids Thrive website in the section on Sustainability 181 and its resources.

By the same token, staff should be helped to recognize that most abusive and neglectful parents sincerely care about their children and are in need of help themselves. Parents will be much more amenable to working with you if their concern for their children is recognized and communicated to them by your staff.

The bottom line is that we can help to ensure the creation of safe, healthy, and trauma-sensitive environments for our children and their protection from child abuse and neglect by educating children about appropriate and inappropriate contact with adults and helping them to develop the skills and language to communicate with parents and caretakers; by building faculty and staff awareness of the signs and symptoms of child abuse and the responsibilities and mechanics of mandated reporting; by involving parents as partners in prevention education; and by instituting capable Child Protection Teams and preventative policies, practices, and protocols in our schools.

A Note to Readers Outside of Massachusetts: As a Manual for Massachusetts educators, you will find a certain amount of state-centric material and information (reporting laws and timelines, forms, state agencies, etc.). But the preponderance of evidence-based and evidence-informed guidance, decision-making structures, tools, primary prevention concepts, organizational concerns, and implementation and sustainment practices are universal and can be applied to the goal of protecting children in any school or youth-serving organization no matter how large or small. If you consider the Manual to be potentially useful to your consumers and stakeholders, please feel free to tailor the material by inserting your own state-specific content as needed.

178 Finkelhor, D. and Jones, L. (2006). Why Have Child Maltreatment and Child Victimization Declined? Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 62, No 4, pp. 685-716.https://www.unh.edu/ccrc/resource/why-have-child-maltreatment-child-victimization-declined

179 Finkelhor, D., Saito, K., and Jones, L. (2022) Updated Trends in Child Maltreatment 2020: Crimes Against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire. https://www.unh.edu/ccrc/sites/default/files/media/2022-03/updated-trends-2020-final.pdf

180 Child Maltreatment (2021). U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2023). Available from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/report/child-maltreatment-2021

181 https://safekidsthrive.org/prevention-topics/sustainability/


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