ERIC Identifier: ED293680
Publication Date: 1988-03-00
Author: Wolverton, Lorrie
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools Las Cruces NM.
Teaching the Abused Migrant Child: What's a Teacher To Do? ERIC
Research conducted by ESCAPE (Eastern Stream Child Abuse Prevention and
Education) from 1982-85 clearly identified migrant children as a population at a
high risk of being maltreated. It is imperative, therefore, that migrant
teachers understand the dynamics of maltreatment and what they as individuals
can do to prevent it.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF CHILD ABUSE IN MIGRANT FAMILIES?
life of migrant families is a stressful one--characterized by uncertain
employment conditions, geographic and social isolation, poor living conditions,
poverty, and mobility. The frequent moves often prevent families from
establishing community ties, availing themselves of support services that might
lessen stress, and building personal relationships that could alleviate the
social isolation. The stresses of poverty have a psychological effect on the
family as members struggle to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and
appropriate child care. All too frequently the end result of these tempestuous
forces on the family is maltreatment.
WHAT ARE THE MIGRANT TEACHERS' ROLES IN DEALING WITH
Child abuse is a complex problem and its prevention requires action
on many fronts. School personnel do spend many hours a day with children and can
thus be leaders in prevention. There are many roles for the teacher to play in
coping with child abuse in the classroom. None of these roles is unfamiliar to
the teacher, especially to the migrant educator who traditionally teaches the
whole child and his/her family.
--OBSERVER: Be aware of the physical signs of abuse and neglect:
maltreatment, behavioral changes, and changes in relationship with peers.
Sometimes it is difficult to determine what is different or out of place. Just
remember--if it doesn't seem right, it usually isn't.
--LISTENER: Listen to what children are saying. They may speak directly to
you or they may tell a friend that there is something wrong in their lives. They
may also speak through play, their writing, or their reaction to books they have
--HOME VISITOR: Working closely with the family has always been an integral
part of migrant education. Knowledge of the child's home environment is
invaluable in assessing the child's educational needs. Additionally, this
understanding will help you put what you observe and hear in the proper
perspective. Changes in the home may easily explain changes in the child's
behavior. Should an abusive or neglectful situation be indicated, the background
you have on the family can be useful in determining supportive services, avenues
of communication, and possible causes.
--REPORTER: Your observations of the child and/or the home environment may
lead you to suspect child maltreatment. In most states, teachers and other
school personnel are mandated reporters. If so, you should follow the policy of
your school district and the procedures of your state in reporting your
suspicions. If you are not familiar with your state law, obtain a copy and read
it without delay. Remember that by reporting you are taking the first step in
rebuilding a family and ending a child's suffering.
Often the migrant family will move before an investigation can be completed
or services provided. This is indeed frustrating but you can keep attention
focused on the child's needs by recording the symptoms you observed on the
child's Migrant Student Record Transfer System form. States have different
policies for recording this information. Consult your MSRTS office for the
appropriate procedures to follow. Some state Child Protective Services agencies
have interstate compacts which allow forwarding of maltreatment case information
to the state to which the child has move. Personnel in the new state will
continue investigating and, if possible, continue any services that have been
accepted by the family. Contact your Social Service agency for further
Anyone, including an abused child, can report a case of maltreatment by
calling the free 24-hour number found in the white pages of the phone book. Some
states have a toll free hot line.
--ADVOCATE: The child protective system will provide services for the family
if maltreatment is indicated. Often the services given to the child victim are
limited and other resources must be located. The educational system has a number
of resources which help the child, including counseling and remediation.
Consider referring the child to the Committee on Special Education. Maltreated
children are children with special needs.
If a child's needs exceed the school's resources, perhaps there are
appropriate community services available. Try to build a network of support
agencies and personnel so that the responsibility can be shared.
--TEACHER: There is a great need to teach all children the dynamics of child
maltreatment. Ensuring their safety is a prime concern. However, children are
being bombarded with much information and educators must be sure that youngsters
understand what this information means. Some children may be unnecessarily
alarmed and others may be fearful to disclose maltreatment.
HOW SHOULD A TEACHER DEAL WITH DISCLOSURE?
learning about child abuse and neglect from may sources: television programs,
news stories, and school programs. An important message is getting through: "If
it happens to you, tell someone! Don't keep it a secret."
Some day a child may come to you and disclose that s/he has been or is
presently being maltreated. Perhaps it will happen because of material you
present in the classroom, or perhaps it will simply be an expression of the
trust that the child has in you. Sharing this secret is a sign that you are
viewed as very special to this child and it is crucial that you react in a way
that will provide comfort to the child and will result in assistance to the
child and family. While your initial reaction may be one of rage, revulsion,
even physical illness, you must convey a sense of comfort and security to the
child. The manner of your reaction is of crucial importance to the child's
self-esteem and can bolster his/her courage to face the aftermath of this
Listening to a child's disclosure is never easy, but if you understand how to
cope with the information in a manner which will bring about a significant
positive change in this child's life, it may be a bit easier. Outlined below are
some suggestions for how to proceed when a child discloses to you. Every
situation is different, and you should always take into consideration your
knowledge of this particular child. And remember, you needn't deal with this
alone. You can always find someone to help you deal with your own reactions to
this very emotional situation.
--BE CALM. Try to control your own feelings and
listen carefully to what the child is saying. Showing your rage or discomfort
may make the child feel that s/he has done something wrong.
--FIND A QUIET, PRIVATE PLACE TO TALK. Keep in mind that the student may be
hurt, in pain, fearful, or apprehensive. S/he should be made as comfortable as
possible. If you are uncomfortable discussing this subject, help to arrange for
the student to talk with someone else s/he knows and trusts. Follow-up to make
sure that someone is providing the help that is needed.
--BELIEVE THE CHILD. Victims rarely lie, especially about child abuse. The
child may have tried to tell others who wouldn't listen and now is in special
need of your trust. Convey to the student that you believe him/her and will try
to help. If you doubt the child, s/he may stop talking about the problem.
--STRESS THAT IT IS NOT THE CHILD'S FAULT. Children often believe that they
are to blame for the maltreatment. Frequently the perpetrator tells them that
they are at fault and that it wouldn't have happened if they had behaved
differently. Reassure the child that s/he is not at fault; however, be careful
not to make negative statements about parents or other perpetrators. Maltreated
children have ambivalent feelings about abusive parents or relatives and may
even feel protective.
-- RESPECT THE CHILD'S PRIVACY. Let the student know that you will respect
his/her confidence (that is, you won't tell other teachers or students about the
abuse). Explain that you are required to report the abuse to the proper
--BE SUPPORTIVE. Assure the child that s/he is doing the right thing by
disclosing this information. A child who divulges such painful facts is putting
him/herself at great risk. Word your questions in a nonjudgmental, open-ended
way. Let the student tell you the story in whatever manner is most comfortable.
S/he has given away what little control s/he has of this situation and entrusted
you to help. Always be accepting of what the child tells you and how s/he tells
-- BE TRUTHFUL. These children need to learn to trust adults again. Never
make promises that you cannot keep. Tell the child that you are required to tell
the authorities whose job it is to protect children and help their parents.
Explain as much as you know about what action will be taken and what is likely
to happen. Assure the student of your support and assistance throughout the
process, and follow through on the assurance.
-- MAKE A REPORT IMMEDIATELY. Don't wait until the end of the day or the week
to report the case. It is imperative that you notify the proper authorities
immediately for the sake of the child and to fulfill your legal
-- BE AN ADVOCATE. The child will continue to need your support even after a
report has been made and the child protection authorities are handling the case.
If the child remains in the school do your best to quell rumors and gossip.
Provide a shoulder for the child to lean on. Listen to what the child has to
say. You may need to advocate for school or community sponsored programs such as
counseling, remediation, or support groups so that the child receives
-- ALLOW the student to feel "in trouble" or "at fault" for the abuse.
-- CRITICIZE the student's choice of words or language.
-- TRY to be an investigator or press for answers that the student is not
-- TRY to be a therapist. You can be a sympathetic listener and a great
support to the child, but recognize your limitations in dealing with this
complex, emotionally-charged situation.
-- DISPLAY shock, anger, disgust, or disapproval of the parents, the student,
or the situation. You may feel these things, but it is unlikely to be helpful to
the student to share these feelings with him/her. Most children, even abused
children, love their parents and feel strong loyalty to them.
-- TELL the student what s/he is feeling. Talk with the student about how
"some people" might feel in a given situation. This leaves him/her free to agree
or to express different feeling. Without questions, listening to a child
describe maltreatment can be a painful and difficult experience. Seek the
support and expertise of school and community resources to help you deal with
the needs of the child and with your own anguish.
WHAT IS A TEACHER TO DO?
As a teacher you are entrusted
with a real treasure--a child's spirit. It can grow and flourish or it can be
crushed. For the abused child, the school may be the only avenue of escape, a
place where s/he can feel safe. Your classroom can support the child's needs if
-- PROMOTE an accepting environment in your classroom.
-- BE warm and loving.
-- CREATE an individualized program for the maltreated child.
-- GIVE the maltreated child additional attention wherever possible.
-- CREATE classroom activities that focus on the issue of child abuse.
CAN YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
You became a teacher because you
genuinely enjoy children and want to be a positive force in their lives. By
fulfilling the roles described above, you have the opportunity to make a
SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE in the lives of children. You could be the person to give
them the information that prevents an incident of maltreatment or which
encourages them to tell some one about it and stop the pain.
RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS
Educating others is always a
learning process for the teacher as well. Listed below are some resources to
prepare you to deal with the topic of child abuse in your classroom.
1. Behanan, N. & Koblinsky, S. CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE: THE EDUCATORS ROLE IN
PREVENTION, DETECTION AND INTERVENTION. Young Children, 1984.
2. Broadhurst, Diane EDUCATORS, SCHOOLS AND CHILD ABUSE. Chicago: National
Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse, 1986.
3. CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT: WHAT THE EDUCATOR SEES. (20-minute film strip and
audiocassette.) Order from : National Archive Trust Fund (NAC) National
Audio-Visual Center, Attention: Order Section-PQ, Washington, D.C. $15.
4. Dorman, R. (Ed.) PREVENTING CHILD ABUSE IN THE HARVEST: A HANDBOOK FOR
MIGRANT EDUCATORS. Ithaca, N.Y.: ESCAPE, Family Life Development Center, Cornell
University, 1985. ED 265 982.
5. Hittleman, Margo, WHAT'S A KID TO DO ABOUT CHILD ABUSE? Ithaca, N.Y.:
Family Life Development Center, Cornell University.
6. I STILL CAN'T SAY IT. (24-minute documentary showing a multifaceted
prevention program created by a local school district.) Order from: Media
Services Distribution Center, 7 Research Park, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
14850. Available on 3/4", 1/2", and Beta Video formats. Cost: $14.00/Rental,
$70/Purchase 1/2" Video Cassette $100/Purchase 3/4" or Beta.
7. Tower, C.C. CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT: A TEACHER'S HANDBOOK FOR DETECTION,
REPORTING AND CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT. Washington, D.C. National Education
8. Volpe, R.; Breton, M.; and Mitton, J. (Eds.) THE MALTREATMENT OF THE
SCHOOL AGED CHILD. Boston: Lexington Books, D. C. Health & Co. 1980.