In a recent story, Mercury News reporters Julia Prodis Sulek and Sharon Noguchi asked why some school personnel don’t report complaints of child abuse, especially when they involve a colleague. Here’s the crux of their report:
From Moraga to Palo Alto to San Jose, child sex abuse cases in schools and day care centers have surfaced alleging that school employees entrusted with the safety of students failed to do what their oaths and the law required: report to police or child protective services when they have a reasonable suspicion that a child has been abused.
Child advocates blame a lack of courage and a lack of training.
“It’s not so much about protecting people, but not having the leadership ability to step up,” said Margaret Petros, a commissioner on the Santa Clara County Child Abuse Council. “People in general want to get along and not rock the boat.”
Their piece followed the latest developments in the Jerry Sandusky scandal and apparent cover-up at Penn State; it also came in the wake of a series of investigative reports by Bay Area News Group staffers Matthias Gafni and Malaika Fraley that uncovered another dark story (stories, really) that happened at a school much closer to home, at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School in the sleepy town of Moraga. You should really read their work, if you haven’t.
Today, Congressman George Miller announced he was asking the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office to examine the effectiveness of current laws and policies on child abuse reporting. He released the letter he had sent to the head of the agency, requesting the inquiry. It began:
The child sexual abuse scandal at The Pennsylvania State University, other recent incidents of child abuse and findings contained within the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) prior work for the Committee on Education and the Workforce have raised a number of concerns about whether we have adequate laws and policies in place to prevent and address abuse of children in schools.
Miller wants the agency to find out the procedures in place at schools and universities and how they handle allegations that school staff engaged in child abuse, and how parents are notified when there has been an allegation or investigation of abuse; what laws and regulations states have in place for such complaints; what policies universities have to protect children on campus who aren’t students, but who are participating in on-campus activities.
Based on your experience, are human failings — fear, loyalty to peers, denial — at the root of the problem, where it exists, or is it a matter of clarifying policies and strengthening laws? Or both? Which policies would make a difference?