There is a dire need to protect all children from all forms of abuse and neglect. We need to close the gap between home and school life by making the reporting of any sign of abuse mandatory for professionals who deal with children, including educators.
Law is only a first step in this direction; enforcement is another. Advocates say that there is more to be done to establish a supportive culture, even in schools. They say that although many schools and teachers take child protection seriously, some principals are failing to report signs of child abuse for fear that it could damage their reputation and discourage parents from enrolling children.
Reporting a case of suspected abuse is never easy. Although signs of abuse can be clear, there is always the concern of making accusations without sufficient evidence. One mistake or misread of the situation can affect the school’s reputation, and that of the parents and family. But this doesn’t justify not acting. It just means that schools have to delicately deal with such situations. As child protection expert Don Randall tells us, identifying abuse but not declaring it can be more damaging than reporting it.
Authorities have to work with schools to set up clear mechanisms to deal with suspected cases and ensure the smooth implementation of the law. This means, in the case of schools, making it as easy as possible for abuse reports to be made, and a clear procedure for investigating them. These mechanisms must recognise that most pupils will find it difficult to make a first move to speak to a counsellor, that teachers will be very wary to intervene and that some school officials may not think of the pupil first but of the reputation of the school.