Having worked in Child Protective Services for two decades, I know our educators do take the mandate of reporting suspected child abuse seriously. Schools do this well, but apparently that is not the case when the suspected perpetrator is a staff member, as evidenced by recent stories in the media.
We need to change how parents, staff and school administrators report and handle allegations of abuse when the perpetrator is a member of the school staff.
It is staff's responsibility to take a child's report seriously and remove the child from the suspected perpetrator. However, it is not the school's responsibility to determine if the allegations are true and conduct its own investigation before deciding to report to CPS or law enforcement.
To ensure impartiality, parents should file a suspected child abuse report with law enforcement or CPS and only then report the abuse to school officials.
This change is counterintuitive for parents, as the school's complaint procedures reinforce school district policies to have parents work issues within the system through the teacher, principal and then the district office.
Unfortunately, the complaint process often protects the suspected teacher, and the institution and the interests and welfare of the student can be circumvented along the way.
Under these circumstances, victims may be pressured to recant or parents agreed to allow school officials "take care of the situation." Forces protecting the institution, the hierarchical relationships between reporting party and their superiors, collegial relationships among teachers all place the victim and their parents at a disadvantage.
When staff and administrators do act, too often they end up conducting their own investigation. Their ability to conduct an impartial finding is burdened by conflicts. Their only duty is to report "reasonable suspicions of child abuse" and act in good faith. They are not held liable for reporting, nor are they expected to substantiate the allegations before reporting to CPS or law enforcement.
By directly reporting to CPS or law enforcement, the victim, their parent, or a responsive teacher or staff can avoid the pitfalls of the current practice.
The issue of investigating abuse in our schools is no less fraught with difficulties than concerns about the Catholic Church investigating sexual abuse by priests or law enforcement investigating officer misconduct or universities and college responding to rape allegations by investigating itself.
Only when an outside, impartial body is given this responsibility can we begin to renew our faith in our institutions.
Harry Gin, a Union City resident, is a retired social worker with 38 years experience in Child and Adult Protective Services. He served on the San Lorenzo Unified School Board from 1983-1996.