Child Sexual Abuse: An Educator’s Guide

You are an educator and some time during the school day, a student comes to you and says that he or she has been sexually abused. If receiving that news isn’t devastating enough, he or she tells you that it was a colleague or other school staff who was the alleged abuser. What do you do?
Educators play an important role in the lives of children who come to school everyday, and the children who trust and feel most safe with the adults at school, will often make personal disclosures. Those revelations offer insights into your students and their lives, both in and out of school.
Child sexual abuse{CSA} has serious and multiple negative consequences. Educators must be prepared to respond to disclosures of this nature. When a child alleges abuse by a colleague, we are challenged to determine truthfulness and the appropriate role to take in this situation. I get it! You don’t want to believe that a fellow staff member, someone with whom you work, could actually breach any trust, compromise safety, and take advantage of a child in that way. Anger, disbelief, fear and the desire to defend your colleague are understandable initial responses. With serious consequences for the child who may be ostracized, rejected or have increasing mental health difficulties, an educator’s role, as a professional and mandated reporter, is to protect the child.
Skepticism is more likely when students have had prior academic, emotional or behavior problems, and unfortunately students with such vulnerabilities are most likely to become the targeted victims of sexual abuse. Research has shown that children who are disbelieved or unsupported after sexual abuse disclosures have worse long-term mental health outcomes. They are more at risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, and developing negative self-images.
Educators are not personally responsible for investigating the truth regarding any allegations. Educators do have two very important roles:
  1. TO REPORT
  2. TO SUPPORT

REPORT Each state has reporting laws, and  educators are mandated reporters-mandated to report disclosures or reasonable suspicions of child sexual abuse to Child Protective Services. There is likely an established protocol and procedures to help you in this process. Failure to report can have serious consequences for you and your school, and more importantly, the child. Mandated reporters can lose their licenses and/or face criminal charges for failing to report.

SUPPORT Provide practical and emotional support to children who allege sexual abuse by a colleague, while they continue to attend school with as much safety and comfort as possible, under the circumstances. Parents school personnel and the student should discuss the creation of an environment free from judgment and embarrassing questions.

You can ensure physical, emotional and social safety in these ways:

  • During your interactions with the child and other students, convey neutrality, yet acceptance regarding the allegations, no matter your personal feelings about it.
  • Validating difficult feelings shows your emotional support of students. If a student expresses anger, you can respond with,” I see that you are very angry.” This type of mirroring and clarifying shows that you acknowledge the student’s emotional state. You hear them, and don’t judge them because of their feelings.
  • If the abuse occurred in the school, refer the child to an outside setting for trauma-focused assessment and treatment rather than providing mental health services in the school.
  • At all times, maintain confidentiality.
If other students find out about the allegations, they will probably have strong reactions. They will likely either side with the student who made the allegations or disbelieve and bully him/her. Children should be directed to a professional to ask questions, express their feelings, and  help them to sort this out.
Educators can also take additional steps, such as:
  • CREATE a safe learning environment for students by reviewing school policies to ensure students are protected from verbal or physical threats or any form of harassment.
  • Discuss with students the effects of social media and cyberbullying. Let them know that when someone discloses personal information about a student online, they place everyone at risk.

Though you can’t control what students say or do outside of school, inform students that if this incident receives wide media coverage, they are better served and protected by being silent and not responding to requests for information or comments. Members of the media  may approach educators, as well, and the same rule applies, at least until the case has been formally concluded. Prohibit students from communicating with the media during  school hours and while on campus.

As the proper professionals work to resolve this alleged misdeed[s], and work to ensure student safety, restore trust of the parents, students, and the community-at-large, the educational staff must remember why they  chose a career in education. Whether working in a school was an accidental decision, an economic necessity or a deliberate career choice, while you’re here, your first duty is to protect the children, respect their families, become familiar with the community and commit to empower all those whose lives will be positively impacted by a quality education.

Finally, sexual misconduct is a horrible crime no matter the perpetrator, and the involvement of children is far worse. Sexual abuses constitute another form of bullying, and no one wants to believe that the bully is a teacher or anyone working in a school. To learn that any such act involves an educator, whether alleged or substantiated, professional ‘courtesy’ should not prevent mandated reporters from honoring a moral or professional code of ethics. Your duty is to protect the children first- even if the allegations are proven false.  It must be reported, as it is far better to err on the side of caution, rather than failing to take action in the best interest of a child.

Don’t Stand Too Close. Violence is Contagious!

If a smile can be ‘infectious‘, then what about all types of violence? It makes so much sense that we should begin to view violence as a communicable and highly contagious disease that infects all those who are exposed to it. In neighborhoods all across the country, violence has been spreading like ‘wildfire’, and the most vulnerable populations are suffering from its impact. Devastating communities and unnecessarily destroying lives, no one is immune.

behind bars

We criminalize gun violence and harshly punish those who engage in this form of violence, but we aren’t protecting the rest of us who have already been exposed.

 

When we examine violence through the lens of a medical model, it meets all of the criteria associated with communicable and infectious diseases.  Let’s say that I live in a neighborhood wrought with violence-gun violence, fist-fights, domestic violence, bullying, and so forth. There is an everyday occurrence of someone being shot by gang members who either injured or killed their intended target. That’s then called ‘street justice’!  What too often happens, is an innocent bystander unwittingly gets caught up in the ‘gunplay’ to become another victim of senseless violence.

fireball

Why is it that my neighborhood has so much violence? That question can actually be logically explained.  Violence can be perceived as a communicable and  contagious disease that spreads like ‘wildfire’ to infect those with whom it comes into contact.

Violence, as a contagious disease, can thus be cured, and at the very least, it can be contained and we can work towards a curative solution. Why a disease model? Like real medical diseases, once identified, we treat them until we find cures. We also manage them to contain them before they become pandemic, and out of control for the general population. An infectious disease is spreadable, and if one person is infected with this disease, anyone with whom that person comes into close contact will likely become infected, and from there, violence spreads exponentially.

police tape

In cities like Chicago, where so much violence has infected the black community, and the poor, young, gang-affiliated populations have become infected to such a degree that violence, as a coping mechanism, and a form of conflict resolution, has become the ‘normal’ in their communities.

Dr. Gary Slutkin, says that we should treat violence as a communicable disease, because it is contagious and spreads through society like an infection- like wildfire. A medical doctor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Dr. Slutkin has shown that violence meets the definitions of a disease and being contagious-spreading from one person to another through close contact. Fitting into the basic infectious disease framework, we can better understand the process of violence, and thus we can strategize on reducing violence.

flogging

Looking back into the history of disease and violence that have infected and killed millions of people in society, we treated those ‘infected’ persons as ‘bad’, which included those infected by mental illnesses, tuberculosis and other formerly ‘untreatable’ afflictions. We blamed them for the problem, and attacked their moral character. Sounds familiar? We put them in dungeons, burnt some ‘at the stake’, threw others down wells; we didn’t know any better; we didn’t know the causes. We didn’t know what was truly happening, or why, because the causes and underlying processes were invisible. Today, however, it is jails and institutions within which exists pipelines to prison that are the ‘normalized’ solutions to that which we do not understand. Essentially, we do not know enough about ourselves, as humans with complex brain processes still undiscovered-not fully understood.

Polio, diarrheal diseases were killers at one time, people were conventionally ‘disposed of’ and now are treated, cured, and those afflictions have been all but erased from the human conditions. We know more, we do more and we treat better. So, if we view violence in the same way, in search of a cure and not punishment, incarceration or labeling the people as ‘bad’ and attack character, we may in fact discover underlying causes and stop the violence that plagues communities across society, if not America.

That which we do not understand, we misdiagnose and mistreat, as in special education placements of youngsters of color. We have made the wrong diagnosis! Those wrong diagnoses, moralistic diagnoses, have lead to ineffective and counterproductive strategies and treatment. Before viewing addiction through the medical model, we attacked those addicted to substances, labeled them bad, and criminalized related behaviors. Now, we understand the underlying processes of addiction, and we are able to treat and cure addictions more appropriately, humanely and less punitively. Violence can and should be viewed in a similar evolutionary process of discovery- a work in progress.

The most pressing and urgent challenges we face today all refer to the different forms of violence which play out in the lives of anyone who has been exposed to it, in one way or another. We must reimagine our approach to the treatment, punishment, labeling, and honestly address the root causes of this disease. Requiring totally new strategies,  systematic collaborative initiatives need be transformative, and proactively designed. When we say that “guns don’t kill people- people kill people”, it seems more economically motivated, a reinforcement of racial, socio-political, and cultural elitist mindsets, and backed by policies and practices which aren’t designed to help, but separate, malign, isolate, and disenfranchise.

Historically, to fill the gaps between what we see as problematic, and the understanding of the biology of disorders, attacking morals and intrinsic value- based solutions were used to fill that gap. So, we attack those youngsters who are affected by or engage in almost epidemic level violence; they are ‘bad’ kids, bad people, ‘bad hombres’. That view reflects a knowledge gap, and a form of ignorance of those who hold such views. Schizophrenia was treated similarly, and lead to institutionalization on a massive scale, and produced places such as the infamous “Willowbrook State School”, where such mistreatment of the mentally ill occurred became the normative solution to that which we did not know. We were replacing incomplete understanding with blame of others and therefore, mental hospitals, special education programs, prisons and now even deportation seems to be logical and appropriate solutions.

What is it that contributes to the continued incidents of violence witnessed everyday?  How do we stop it? As one organization works towards solution-finding and violence prevention, they successfully employ interventions and treatments to “Cure Violence” across the spectrum of human experience. Violence is, after all, a contagious disease!

 

 

 

Adultification is….This Child, Your Child, or You?

Doesn’t everyone know a child who has a smart, not dirty or foul, mouth? You know that kid- the one who seems to position her/himself in the middle of  adult conversations and makes statements or decisions indicative of a more mature person or an adult. Somewhat precocious, a little rude, slightly condescending, but always made sense in proper context, yes? Well, that particular child is just self-assured and exceptionally wise or perceptive- not particularly the subject of this discussion- adultification.

Exactly what is adultification? My grandmother used to call it, ” growing up before your time”. Early “adultification” occurs when a young person is forced into adult-like roles before reaching a mature level of mental and emotional stability.

Childhood adultification manifests in four forms:

  • “precocious knowledge,” in which children gain knowledge typically associated with older people;
  • “mentored adultification,” where a child assumes an adult-like role with only limited supervision;
  • “peerification/spousification,” when children gain status equal to that of their parents, sometimes assuming the position of a “quasi-partner;” and
  • “parentification,” whereby a child may become a full-time “quasi-parent” to his or her siblings.

It is difficult to determine how many are affected by the complex processes that surround young people who have played adult roles such as premature caregiving, parenthood and family conflict, because not all young people experience it the same way. Themes that can characterize adultification are:

Early Independence. This occurs when youth must provide for themselves once they are faced with neglectful caregiving. Little supervision compels them to provide for their own needs, which they may deem beneficial, and viewed as character-building.

Family Conflict. Various forms of caregiver abuse, neglect and strained home environments with conflict and high stress, makes youth feel older than they are.

Premature Caregiving. Household responsibilities such as caring for younger siblings or relatives, cooking and cleaning, lead youth unprepared to balance these adult duties with other responsibilities like school work and can motivate youth to leave home early.

Parenthood. Becoming a parent at an early age without much parental support can raise an array of emotions. Some youth can use this as determined motivation to positively alter their lifestyles for their own children. Others will carry resentment into adulthood that will affect their parenting and relationships with their children.

Cultural Differences. Race and culture vary and will likely influence life outcomes. For instance, people of color assume greater responsibilities and obligations earlier, and may encourage earlier independence than other cultures. However, this should not be assumed as a cultural norm, since it has components that are not culturally or racially dictated. Rather, the perceived level of adultification is also dependent upon family financial and socio-political status among other factors.  Many responsibilities taken on by youngsters may often be seen as an expectation in preparation for independence and adulthood rather than abusive or neglectful on the part of caregivers.

Culturally-based, this phenomenon is to be viewed from multiple lenses, which highlights the importance of cultural proficiency among all who work with children, youth and families.

Schools should offer in their curriculum design, reality-based, youth empowerment and peer support programming experiences- within a safe environment to explore and examine different realities and acquire new effective coping skills.  Science and Social Studies classes need to incorporate life skills training, for the acquisition of real life skills. Conflict resolution, effective listening, the art of positive feedback, building empathic awareness, tolerance, and emotional literacy expansion opportunities should be embedded in instructional design in formal k-12 learning institutions.

Offered in schools, perhaps when youngsters become adults, we can be assured that they have been given basic life skills within more age-appropriate learning contexts. Amidst all challenges that children face, at home, in school and the world around them, it falls on us to prepare our young learners for real life global competency in the real world.

Adultification is literally growing up too fast in an already fast paced society. We must broaden our lenses and re-imagine policies, practices, procedures and perspectives that place  children at the center of all focused and family-friendly strategies  to improve life quality and learning outcomes.

Home, family, community, work or school culture alone does not lead to early adultification of youth.  Yet, youth who are adultified are the most vulnerable, and the least qualified for the roles that are thrust upon them. Although a hurried childhood can  indicate adultification of youth, we must be careful to not misconstrue reality dictated responsibilities assumed by children as such across the board. There is a fine line between this and ‘normal’ challenging tasks given to children in families. Responsibilities are good in many instances and inappropriate in others.

PARENTIFICATION

A form of adultification, a child becomes parentified when they are charged with parenting tasks which are beyond them. A child should not have to be responsible for caring for others 24/7. They are their sibling(s)’s sibling, not their parent, and they should not be expected to act as though they are.

Spousification‘ and ‘peerification‘ are often interchangeable terms. The difference is that spousification involves treating a child as a partner, while peerification involves treating a child as a peer. A form of spousification more commonly seen these days comes when divorced or separated parents use their child as a sounding board for their grievances against one another. For example, a mother might tell her child that their father is a bad person, or blame the father for the separation. The problem is that bad person is also that child’s parent. A child should not be expected to listen to disparaging comments about either of their parents.

It is important to remember that a child is a child, and should be treated as such. They are not prepared to act as a friend or partner to their parent(s). They are only prepared to be….children who, with proper nurturing and sound guidance, will be adults soon enough. It is unfair to rush them along. Life is pretty challenging already.

Why is adultification worth mentioning?

In short, because it’s wrong. A child is a child. A child should not have to act like an adult. The effects of being adultified can be seen once the child has grown and physically becomes an adult, long after they mentally became one.This is not to say that there are not good things that can come out of adultification. The adultified child may grow to have a strong sense of independence, be very practical, have skills as a care-taker, etc.. However, the negative effects can weigh the person down.

If you are or were adultified, what do you do? First, the important thing to acknowledge is that you have identified the issue. This is the first critical step on a journey towards healing any wounds you may have been left with.  Begin to live and love life while always in pursuit of the best, most authentic version of yourself.

 

Now What? Your Child Identifies as LGBTQ

Parents love their children and want the best for them. They have a sincere desire to nurture and protect their children and keep them safe, particularly from anyone who might hurt or harm them.

Research shows that between two and seven percent of adults identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. Studies also show that young people—both gay and heterosexual—first become aware of being romantically and physically attracted to another person at around age ten. Although some young people are identifying as gay during adolescence, regardless of whether they disclose this to others, some are aware of these feelings at an earlier age.

Parents’ attitudes can have a dramatic impact on their gay and transgender children’s lives. Young people are often afraid of how their families would respond to their identity and afraid they would be condemned or rejected because of it.

Many different behaviors that families and caregivers use to respond to their child’s gay or transgender identity include: telling your child she can’t come to a family event because she is lesbian or telling your child that God will punish him because he is gay. Some may be concerned that their children might have gay friends, and thus bar their association with them for fear that the friends have influenced their child’s identity.

For parents to support their gay and transgender children, this means helping them understand that you love them, discussing what risky behavior means, and above all, creating an environment where your child can confide in you and share his or her concerns.

A wide range of parental behaviors can affect a young person’s well-being, including risk for physical and mental health problems. Sending rejecting messages, some families drive their gay or transgender children out of the family circle and into high risk environments and behaviors. Research shows that family rejection is linked with serious health problems in adulthood and contributes to family disruption and homelessness. Many LGBT young people are placed in foster care, run away or are ejected from their homes because of family rejection related to their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Supporting your LGBT child does not mean that parents and other family members must accept behaviors that they consider inappropriate or against their family’s standards; what it does mean is that children who engage in behavior or express an identity that is not approved by the family still need love and acceptance, still need to feel that they are a part of the family, and still need a positive sense of self and hope for the future.

Supportive family reactions promote well-being and help protect LGBT young people from risky behaviors. At the same time, negative family reactions can have a serious impact on a gay or transgender young person’s risk for physical and mental health problems. That is, children from families where parents and other family members don’t reject or react punitively to their child’s identity, don’t send negative messages to that child or his LGBT friends, and don’t allow anti-gay sentiments to be expressed in the home are much more likely to avoid risky and self-destructive behaviors, are much more likely to lead happier lives and are much more likely to feel a part of the family.

Parents who send rejecting messages, who try to change their child’s identity, who prevent their gay and lesbian children from having LGBT friends, or who allow negative comments about LGBT people to be spoken in the home are more likely to have children who withdraw from the family circle and are at higher risk for serious health problems, such as suicide, substance abuse and HIV infection. The vastly different impact on children between these two kinds of parental reactions can be profound.

Many parents believe that the best way to help their gay or transgender children thrive as teens and adults is to pressure them to have only heterosexual friends. They may also try to change their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity, prevent her from learning about his/her identity or prevent him/her from finding LGBT resources to help develop a positive sense of who he or she is.

Because parents see these behaviors as loving or caring, they are often surprised and even shocked to learn that their gay children experience these reactions as rejection or abuse. Young people feel that by rejecting their core identity, their parents are rejecting them.

This often leads to family conflict and increases the adolescent’s distress, loss of hope, and vulnerability for risky behaviors. Parents think that by trying to prevent their children from learning about or from seeing themselves as gay they are helping their children survive in a world they feel will never accept them. But such well-intentioned behaviors are experienced as rejection by their children and often make adolescents feel as if their parents don’t love them, are ashamed of them or even hate them.

Many gay and transgender youth feel like they have to hide who they are to avoid hurting their family, being rejected by their family or even being thrown out of their homes. Young people who are rejected by their families because of their identity have much lower self-esteem, have fewer people they can turn to for help, and are more isolated than those who are accepted by their families, and are at very high risk for physical and mental health problems when they become young adults. Highly rejected LGBT young people are:

  • More than 8 times as likely to attempt suicide
  • Nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression
  •  More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs, and
  • More than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases

Behaviors to Avoid 

  • Hitting, slapping or physically hurting your child because of your child’s LGBT identity
  • Verbal harassment or name-calling because of your child’s LGBT identity
  •  Excluding LGBT youth from family and family activities
  • Blocking access to LGBT friends, events and resources
  • Blaming your child when she is discriminated against or has negative experiences because of her LGBT identity
  • Pressuring your child to be more (or less) masculine or feminine
  • Telling your child that God will punish him because he is gay or bisexual
  •  Telling your child that you are ashamed of her or that how she looks or acts will shame the family
  • Preventing or not allowing your child to talk about his LGBT identity

Behaviors that Help

  • Talk with and listen respectfully to your child or foster child about her LGBT identity
  • Express affection when your child tells you or when you learn that your child is gay or transgender
  • Support your child even when you may feel uncomfortable
  • Advocate for your child when he is mistreated because of his LGBT identity
  • Require that other family members respect your LGBT child
  • Tell your child you love her unconditionally
  • Welcome your child’s LGBT friends to your home
  • Support your child’s gender expression
  • Stand up for your child at school to prevent and address bullying & harassment
  • Openly discuss your child’s LGBT identity with your child and others
  • Believe your LGBT child can have a happy future

The most important way that parents and families can help their child is to love and support that child—to help nurture a deep sense of self-worth and self-esteem. For many families, this may not seem possible at first. But building a child’s inner strength by helping him/her learn to value him/herself can help your child deal with discrimination and rejection from others. How you react to your gay or transgender child has a deep and lasting impact on his/her life. It not only affects their relationship with you and your family, it also affects your child’s health and well-being.

Start by finding time to talk with your child and invite him/her to tell you about his/her experiences and what (s)he is feeling. Ask how you can support your child and what (s)he needs from you. When your child talks, don’t interrupt; just listen with patience and compassion-from your heart. Above all, keep your lines of communication open.

Open communication between parents and children is a clear expression of love, and pure love can transform family ties. Now what?

So what! Your child identifies as LGBTQ! Love is unconditional and that should be all that matters. Give love, show love—unconditional love for your child!