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Reporting "signs of abuse" when you also have good reason to doubt abuse...

Discussion in 'Workplace dilemmas' started by RobotSquid, Mar 22, 2011.

  1. Hi all!

    I'm working on my first kid's novel (sci-fi, ages 8 & up), and have a question about how my protagonist's teachers would respond (or be required to respond) to her - any help would be hugely appreciated :D

    My protagonist, at the start of the story, is 11 years old, and has been in her current school for four years. She is being raised by her father, who is an architect, with whom she travels a great deal, but when travelling during term-time she continues to attend school virtually. In fact, her augmented-reality avatar probably spends more time in the classroom than her physical self.

    Pretty much every day she comes to school, she has multiple bruises, cuts and grazes - mostly pretty minor, but sometimes not. Black eyes are not infrequent. She has also, in the last four years, broken her leg once and broken an arm on two separate occasions. However, there are plenty of reasons to suppose that she is *not* being abused at home.

    She is extremely physically active, rather reckless, and if she gets hurt at school (which often happens), say during break or PE, she is pretty nonchalant about it, and would rather get straight back to playing than have anyone make a fuss or try to send her to the school nurse. If her accounts of her fractures are to be believed, none of them happened in the home - the broken leg was a fall from a bikeshed; the first broken arm was a fall from a tree; the second broken arm was a bike accident, involving a twisty, downhill dirt track and a tree. Her story regarding the first broken arm, at least, is known by her teachers to be true, as a boy in her year was also injured in the same incident, and their stories match. (in fact her accounts of all of these incidents are true, other than a few dramatic embellishments, but I don't know whether her teachers would be able to check)

    One of her favourite play activities is playfighting, and she has a few friends who share her idea of what makes a good playfight - essentially, the rougher the better. That said, it does seem like she tries to avoid "real" fights, and has been observed walking away from taunts intended to provoke her into one - but if she is cornered, she will absolutely not give in to bullies, even if outnumbered. In fact, a lot of the adults around her find it a little troubling just how little she cares about getting hurt. If you ask her about how she got her various injuries, you'll get two basic responses. If it's something relatively minor, especially if it's not that recent, the answer will most likely be something like "I dunno, playing probably". If you ask about something more significant, say, a black eye or a substantial cut, she'll give you a big grin and narrate with gusto; sometimes her account is plausible, and consistent on retelling (other than a gradual accretion of narrative embellishments), but other times she will make something up about battles with pirates, zombies, dinosaurs or robots (or pirate zombie robot dinosaurs).

    She is cheerful, outgoing, and fond of bragging, though a lot of the other kids think she's a bit weird. She's bright, curious, and engaged with her lessons, but can be a bit of a pain in class with her hand constantly waving in the air with awkward questions. She's quite hyperactive, but tries to direct it into positive channels. If she's denied the opportunity to do so, however, her behaviour can turn peevishly obnoxious pretty fast. Overall, she can be a challenging presence in the classroom, especially if she's finding the lesson too easy, or if she detects the presence of Lies We Tell To Children ("No miss, you're lying again, the atom is nothing like a solar system. Electron orbitals are quantum probability wavefunctions and you *know* it"). However, some of her teachers, the ones who are able to make the lesson challenging for her, let the lesson plan slide a little, play off her stream of questions as a pedagogic tool, and subtly recruit her into helping struggling classmates, enjoy teaching her and find her to be an asset in the classroom. The ones who can't pull this trick off find her a total headache.

    Socially, she tends to hit it off really well with some people, but isn't so good at fitting in with a group. She has about 8 or 9 good friends at school, including a couple of older kids, but the social graph of her year has, at this point, formed into recognisable social circles (punks, trendies, geeks, etc), and her friends are scattered across several of these groups. She tends to approach adults as equals, and engages in what she regards as good-humoured teasing; some adults respond in kind, and get on well with her, others find this behaviour irritating and disrespectful. Anyone who has seen her and her Dad together for any length of time will see a strong example of the former case; they tease each other mercilessly, and make each other laugh a lot. However, because they're away so much, probably most of her teachers haven't seen this.

    So, the question is, what is the likelihood that one of her teachers would express a concern about her to social services? Perhaps a teacher whose share of playground-duties tends not to coincide with her breaktimes might be less aware than others of her tendency to play rough. Perhaps some teachers might regard her recklessness and nonchalance about pain as a symptom of abuse, rather than an alternative explanation for her injuries. Perhaps one of her teachers would simply regard reporting it "just in case" as the safer course of action, especially if there are mandatory reporting laws in force - or maybe such mandatory reporting laws would simply require a teacher to report her injuries to social services, even if they really don't believe she is being abused. Would a teacher try to investigate further before deciding whether to file a report, or is it likely to be hard to do that within the rules? If a report were filed, would it be investigated actively? Would it make a difference if the report was filled with caveats to the effect that the teacher does not believe abuse is likely? Would her Dad be informed about the investigation, and if so, at what point?

    Thanks in advance!
  2. (Argh where did all my paragraph breaks go?)
  3. There is so much going on here it is difficult to see how a concern could not be raised. I would complete a non urgent form which would lead to social services being informed that school was investigating. At least a home visit would be required with discussion of the school's concerns. There must also be medical concerns with so many injuries at such a young age and their effect in later years. At the least some form of mentor input to develop an understanding of personal safety. Whether you doubt the abuse or not there is clearly a concern that needs addressing, there have been too many cases where a blind eye has been turned with terrible results.
  4. Thank you, tribej - very interesting.

    (Also - YAY! I have learned how to make paragraph breaks)

    I imagine any intervention involving a home visit doing more harm than good. The thing is, all the reckless play and scrapping are not so much self-destructive behaviour as self-regulation. The more she's able to blow off steam at break times and out of school, the easier she finds it to sit still in class, let her teachers follow their lesson plans, and not torment her poor maths teacher with questions about "whether that generalises to the complex plane" and the like.

    (When she was younger, she was given medication for hyperactivity, but this was discontinued when she was discovered to be tonguing the pills and selling them to her dad's undergraduates for sweeties.)

    So, the danger of a home visit is that it would leave her feeling like it's her responsibility to change the way she plays, or else her dad will be taken away from her. She'd try, but her behaviour in class would degenerate, she would become increasingly miserable, and sooner or later something would give.

    Mentoring to "develop an understanding of personal safety" within the school might be a better way to go, for one thing because such an arrangement would give the school a way of keeping an eye on the situation. The school has a psychiatrist who comes in once a week, whom she sees occasionally, and with whom she has a fairly good relationship. The psychiatrist's view is that while she certainly has problems, she has developed her own ways of managing them, and that she is basically a pretty happy kid, highly resilient, with a strong sense of self and considerably greater than average resistance to peer pressure. Whether such mentoring would have a significant effect on her behaviour is another matter altogether, though...
  5. Cervinia

    Cervinia Occasional commenter

    Is this an appropriate theme for a children's book? I obviously don't know the plot, but this sounds awful.
  6. essentiallyprincess

    essentiallyprincess New commenter

    Is she in her final year of primary school? Or first year of secondary school - you say she has been in that school quite awhile. Is she in a middle school? From a primary school perspective there is someone who is responsible for child protection. A Class Teacher with concerns would go to that person and file a report that person would then file a report to Social Services. Usually in a primary school the child has the one teacher most of the time (obviously there is supply, it may be job share etc). If in the playground the teacher on duty saw rough play they would likely refer to the behaviour policy which often does not allow rough play on the playground. They would also probably mention it to the class teacher. Teachers talk (whether they should or shouldn't) and her behaviour would more than likely be discussed in the staff room. Kind of hmmm is this an issue or not discussions may occur - like I say they probably shouldn't for confidentiality reasons but in reality ...
  7. Thanks for this! She has just finished Primary School at the time the story begins (the events discussed here come up in the narrative as flashbacks); however, the story is set some centuries in the future, and between mucking around with genetics and advances in neuropedagogy, education is considerably accelerated compared to now, and although she does have a class teacher, most of the day (say 75% of class time) is taken up with more specialised classes. This of course means that she is well known to many of the teachers, and is certainly a topic of discussion in the staff room - her behaviour in class, for instance, is a cause of some division among her teachers, between those who find her curiosity and engagement with her studies immensely rewarding, and those who find her cocky attitude and hand waving in the air, constantly trying to trip them up with tricky questions, a strong argument for early retirement.

    Her school allows rough play on the playground up to a point, but the school grounds are large, and if she and her friends want to exceed that point, they know where they can go to be less likely to get caught (may or may not entail slipping off of school premises) - though her teachers can figure it out when she returns from playtime with bruises, grazes and self-administered sticky plasters that she didn't have earlier in the day, and of course sometimes they do get caught anyway. Some of the teachers who find her in-class behaviour most challenging may notice that when she comes in from playtime in such a state, she is noticeably less of a pain in class.

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