Teachers not trained to spot child abuse, reporting optional

Safeguarding Children

Teachers and childcare staff aren’t taught how to spot child abuse. If they suspect – or even know – a child is being abused, it’s up to them to decide if they’ll pass on their fears to agencies.

Both these things have to change, say child advocacy campaigners.

They want teachers and daycare staff to get compulsory training so they can spot abuse. They also want the Children’s Act to sharpen up, so it’s “feared” like health and safety laws.

Their calls for change follow the murders of five-year-olds Malachi Subecz and Ferro-James Sio. In both cases, staff at their preschools knew they were being abused.

Safeguarding Children chief, Willow Duffy (pictured), says mandatory reporting “can seem like an effective solution”, but it’s not that simple.

Oranga Tamariki needs an effective and well resourced system around mandatory reporting first. If not, the child protection agency could become overwhelmed. Children would still be at risk or in an even more vulnerable situation.

Duffy says the Children’s Act 2014 is “a weak, forgotten piece of legislation that could seriously contribute to the prevention, recognition and response to child abuse and neglect”.

She wants it fully reviewed to ensure it includes mandatory child protection training for anyone – including volunteers – providing services for children and young people.

Safeguarding Children is one organisation that provides such training.

Over the past 12 years and 35,000 trainees later, Duffy says they hear the same concerns raised ahead of the training:

Fear of getting it wrong, fear of making it worse for the child, concerns over losing their relationship with the child and family, fear of breaking the law, getting into trouble at work and fears for their own safety.

“When we survey people after the training the top response is that “nothing would stop me,” she said.

“Crucial to preventing and intervening early in child abuse is mandatory training.

“The sad fact is that, due to the partnership between Safeguarding Children and Sport New Zealand, there are lifeguards on the beaches of New Zealand who have had more child protection training than teachers, doctors, nurses and social workers in our country.”

Regular refresher courses in spotting and reporting child abuse should also be mandatory, Duffy says. Just like First Aid courses.

Up to date training should be part of the registration process of any professional working with children and “definitely part of any government licensing or funding process.” she says.

“Currently this is not the case, this is a failure of The Children’s Act once again, which has become a “tick box” compliance mechanism to achieve funding. A “tick box” approach will never protect anyone.”

So far the Government has chosen not to comment, similarly the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, Kōhanga Reo National Trust, New Zealand Principals Federation, Youth Law and The New Zealand Post Primary Teachers’ Association.

While supportive of mandating training and reporting, the New Zealand Education Institute warns that mandating reporting could create some perverse consequences with children’s parents and families “that would need careful consideration.”


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News category: New Zealand.

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