School counselors and child abuse reporting: a national survey.
Child abuse (Reporting)
Child abuse (Evaluation)
|Author:||Bryant, Jill K.|
|Publication:||Name: Professional School Counseling Publisher: American School Counselor Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Family and marriage; Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 American School Counselor Association ISSN: 1096-2409|
|Issue:||Date: June, 2009 Source Volume: 12 Source Issue: 5|
|Topic:||Event Code: 200 Management dynamics|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
A study was done to investigate school counselors' child abuse
reporting behaviors and perceptions regarding the child abuse reporting
process. Participants were randomly selected from the American School
Counselor Association membership database with 193 school counselors
returning questionnaires. Overall, school counselors indicated that they
reported the majority of cases suspected, but significant differences in
reporting emerged with regard to school level, school setting, and type
of abuse reported. Decisional influences and barriers to reporting also
were examined. Implications for future research and training are
Since the enactment of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in 1974 (Pub. L. No. 93-247), there has been a steady increase in the number of child abuse cases reported by those mandated to report (Shireman, 2003). According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS), investigation rates have risen 27.1% since 1990 (USDHHS, 2005). Consistently, mandatory reporters (defined originally as individuals who come into contact with children as part of their occupation) have accounted for a sizable number of the child abuse reports made to Child Protective Services (CPS) or other legal entities, making up 55.8% of all reports in 2004 (USDHHS, 2006).
Approximately three million reports of child abuse are made every year in this country (USDHHS, 2005). Even so, estimates are that the rate of child abuse is actually three times greater than is reported (USDHHS). Retrospective reports from adults put estimates of sexual abuse at 1 in 4 females and 1 in 10 males by age 18 (Berliner, 2002). Nearly a quarter of all cases of child abuse reported each year are physical abuse (Kolko, 2002), while neglect is consistently the most frequently reported type of abuse (USDHHS). Hamarman, Pope, and Czaja (2002) found a 300-fold disparity in the rate of emotional abuse reports between states, most likely due to variations in definitions for that type of abuse, so current rates are unclear. Considering the number of children victimized every year, the fact that the majority of these victims are not identified is sobering.
Because of their unique standing within the school setting, the child abuse reporting behaviors of school counselors may differ from those of teachers or other mandated reporters. Because of their position, school counselors are on the front lines with regard to child abuse concerns presenting in the school setting (Bryant & Milsom, 2005). Lambie (2005) suggested that school counselors often function as experts or consultants within their schools to others who have questions about child abuse or child abuse reporting. School counselors are also more likely to maintain long-term relationships with many of their students when compared with other mental health professionals, and thus they inherently promote circumstances in which students would be more likely to report abusive incidents to them. Additionally, school counselors may be more familiar with the other microsystems in a child's life, including such systems as neighborhood, family, peers, or other community groups.
Past research has focused on the reporting behaviors of educators and mental health professionals, but rarely school counselors specifically. Studies suggest that a substantial amount of variance in an individual's decision to report may be related to the degree or seriousness of the abuse as well as the type of abuse encountered (Beck & Ogloff, 1995; Crenshaw, Crenshaw, & Lichtenberg, 1995). When barriers to reporting have been examined, the most frequent reasons given for failure to report were lack of competence in recognition and reporting procedures, concerns about a possible negative effect of a report on the child, fear of legal ramifications, professional ethics (e.g., concern about breaking confidentiality, causing harm to the child or the therapeutic relationship), and concern regarding lack of substantial proof (Abrahams, Casey, & Daro, 1992; Kalichman, 1999, Levine & Doueck, 1995). Finally, differences exist between educators and school or mental health counselors in their level of knowledge regarding mandatory reporting law. Counselors felt competent in their knowledge of law as well as recognition of abuse (Beck & Ogloff; Brvant & Milsom, 2005), while teachers felt competent in neither area (Abrahams et al.; Crenshaw et al.).
School counselors, as mandatory reporters, are an essential and visible group of professionals worthy of further exploration with regard to child abuse reporting behaviors. Prior research has typically examined child abuse reporting by educators as a single group, lumping in administrators and school counselors with teachers (Abrahams et al., 1992; Crenshaw et al., 1995; Kenny, 2001; O'Toole, Webster, O'Toole, & Lucal, 1999). Only a few studies have examined school counselors specifically. Hackbarth and DeVaney (1994) studied child abuse reporting behaviors in school counseling students and their supervisors. Kenny and McEachern (2002) examined child abuse reporting behaviors in a national sample of school counselors and school administrators. Bryant and Milsom (2005) investigated child abuse reporting behaviors of school counselors in a single state sample. At the present time, however, no national survey has been conducted with school counselors as a specific mandatory reporter population.
Whereas other studies attempted to focus on reporting decisions in general (over the entire professional career of the respondent) or specifically (with regard to predetermined vignette scenarios), the current study asked participants to respond based on their experiences in the past 12 months and asked them to comment on their real-world experiences rather than on hypothetical scenarios. The purpose of this research was to explore child abuse reporting by a national sample of school counselors. More specifically, this study examined the following research questions:
1. What were the child abuse reporting behaviors of school counselors in the United States during a single school year (12-month period)?
2. What factors do school counselors indicate influence their decisions to report or not report suspected abuse?
4. Where do school counselors acquire their training in child abuse reporting?
The research questionnaire was sent to a nationwide sample of 750 school counselors who were members of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). Ten questionnaires were returned not deliverable, reducing the total sample size to 740. Two hundred and twenty-seven questionnaires were returned. Of these, 34 were returned blank, or the individuals informed the researcher they no longer met criteria for the study (i.e., no longer a school counselor). A total of 193 met criteria for inclusion (26% response rate).
The sample was composed of 169 women (87.6%), and 22 men (11.4%), with 2 respondents not specifying gender. Participants ranged in age from 24 to 64 years (M = 44.25, SD = 10.56) and were predominantly White, non-Hispanic (90.6%), with the remaining participants reporting their ethnicity, as African American (4.2%), Hispanic/Latino (2.1%), Asian/Pacific Islander (0.5%), or other (2.7%), and 2 failing to endorse ethnicity. The participants reported a mean tenure of 9.38 years as a school counselor (SD = 7.66). A large percentage (85.0%, n = 164) held a master's degree while 12 (6.2%) reported an educational specialist degree and 6 (3.1%) reported a doctorate. Three participants (4.1%) reported only holding a bachelor's degree. The number of school counselors per building ranged from one to nine (M = 2.56, SD = 1.87), and the majority of participants (62.7%, n = 121) reported at least one other school counselor employed in their building. Data from ASCA were unavailable for a representative comparison.
The number of students in the buildings served by participants ranged from 140 to 3,000 (M = 828.04, SD = 532.01). The percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch ranged from 0 to 100 (M = 37.11, SD = 28.50) with 15 participants failing to endorse that item on the questionnaire. Respondents were evenly distributed with respect to building level, as 70 (36.3%) reported working at the elementary level, 65 (33.7%) reporting middle school/junior high, and 56 (29.0%) indicating they were high school counselors. Ninety-two participants (47.7%) reported their school demographic setting as suburban, while 55 (28.5%) specified their school was in a rural setting and 43 (22.3%) designated working in an urban setting.
The questionnaire used in this research was developed based on a pilot study conducted in the fall of 2003 with a state sample of school counselors (see Bryant & Milsom, 2005). The pilot study introduced a questionnaire examining school counselors' training in child abuse, perceptions of abilities to recognize abuse, child abuse suspicions and reporting behaviors, decisional influences and barriers to reporting, their role as a consultant in child abuse reporting referrals, and knowledge of mandatory reporting law specific to their state. Qualitative data also were obtained though an open-ended question. The current questionnaire was drafted based on results from the pilot study; feedback from four practicing school counselors, five school counseling interns, one professor of statistics, one professor of social work, and three counselor educators; and additional review of the literature.
Due to the nature of the questionnaire, internal consistency measures were inappropriate. The section on factors influencing decisions to make or not make a report was expanded by asking participants to endorse answers specific to each type of abuse. In addition to level of school (e.g., elementary, high school), the setting of the school (e.g., urban, rural) was added to this questionnaire to better explore contextual factors. From comments received in the qualitative section of the pilot study, a section was added on perceptions of CPS, but those results were not included in this article. Questions exploring suspicions of abuse not reported were edited, framing non-reporting more as clinical hunches not reaching a reportable threshold rather than a failure to report. For this study, neglect was separated into two forms of neglect: physical neglect and supervisory neglect. Finally, the section on knowledge of state law was eliminated, as this was a national study, with different mandatory legislation for each state.
The questionnaire consisted of 19 questions in three parts: School Counselor General Information, Child Abuse Reporting Experience, and Perceptions of Child Protection Services. Operational definitions for types of abuse were provided. Physical abuse was defined as the non-accidental injury of a child or adolescent by a caretaker or adult. Sexual abuse was operationalized as a caretaker or adult engaging in sexual activity with a child or adolescent. Emotional abuse was defined as acts or omissions by a caretaker or adult causing serious impairment to a child's emotional development. Because some researchers have begun to distinguish two different types of neglect, supervisory and physical (Coohey, 2003), both were examined separately for this study. Physical neglect was described as a caretaker or adult's failure to provide for a child's basic needs, while supervisory neglect was defined as lack of supervision by a parent or caretaker to the extent that injury of the child is possible.
Upon completion of the questionnaire and final approval from the Institutional Review Board, a random sample of 250 school counselors from each level (elementary, middle, and high school) was obtained from the ASCA membership database. Members of ASCA self-report their level of employment. An abbreviated form of Dillman's Total Design Method was used (Dillman, 1978) for two reasons. First, at the time of this study, ASCA was not yet producing c-mail contacts as part of its sample lists purchased for research purposes. Therefore, only mail surveys were possible, taking longer than the electronic method used in the pilot study. Second, the questionnaires were deliberately mailed out at the end of the school year (i.e., May) in order to obtain a more accurate account from participants of their recollection of child abuse reporting behaviors in the past year. This decision, while addressing temporal issues with recollection, may also have led to a reduced number of responses simply because the end of the school year is a very busy time for most school counselors.
Each participant received a one-page cover letter-informed consent, a self-addressed stamped envelope, and a questionnaire. A follow-up reminder postcard was sent one week after the initial mailing to enhance the return rate. As explained in the cover letter, participation in the study was voluntary and consent to participate was indicated by the return of a completed questionnaire. Participants were assured confidentiality and discreet use of the data. Forms were marked with a code number to allow follow-up on questionnaires that had not been returned. There were no incentives offered to participate in the study.
Suspected and Reported Child Abuse Cases
A preliminary analysis of the number of suspected and reported cases of child abuse indicated that the distributions had several outliers, specifically responses for suspicions and reports of abuse that were much higher than the majority of responses in the study. Given the nature of the data (i.e., number of occurrences of an event), this result was not unexpected. In terms of the number of suspected abuse cases, three responses were more than 3.5 standard deviations above the mean and these cases were identified as outliers. Further analysis determined that the two most extreme outliers were also outliers for the number of reported cases of abuse. An investigation of the outliers revealed that these three counselors came from urban and suburban elementary and middle schools with high levels of poverty as indicated by the percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch. Omitting the outliers did have a noticeable impact on the means and standard deviations for elementary schools, middle schools, urban schools, and suburban schools. Thus, all analyses involving suspected or reported cases of abuse were conducted twice, with the first set of analyses including the outliers and the second excluding the outliers. Comparisons of results from the two sets of analyses showed no substantive difference in conclusions. Therefore, because the likelihood is that the outliers represent valid data, results are reported with these counselors included in the sample.
In this study, suspected cases of child abuse ranged from 0 to 50 cases within the past 12 months (M = 6.06, SD = 6.94). Of these suspected cases, a slightly lower number were reported, as participants' answers ranged from 0 to 35 reported cases in the past year (M = 4.71, SD = 5.20). Within this 12-month period, participants reported 77.35% of their suspected child abuse cases. Finally, of the cases reported, an even lower number were investigated, as participants indicated that between 0 and 25 cases were investigated in the past 12 months (M = 3.65, SD = 4.30). Therefore, approximately 68% of child abuse cases reported by school counselors were investigated by CPS, according to participant reports.
Data revealed physical abuse to be the most often reported type of child abuse, with participant responses ranging from 0 to 33 (M = 2.99, SD = 4.11). Supervisory neglect was endorsed as the most frequently suspected but not reported type of child abuse (M = 1.18, SD = 3.91). Emotional abuse was the second most frequently non-reported type of abuse (M = 1.02, SD = 3.23), followed closely by physical abuse (M= 1.01, SD = 2.81).
School level. An analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted to determine potential differences in both the number of child abuse cases suspected and those reported in a 12-month period by school counselors at different levels (elementary, middle/junior high, high school). There was a significant difference for suspected cases by level (F [2, 188] = 8.392, p = .000), with an effect size of 0.09. A Tukey test of familywise corrections for post-hoe pairwise comparisons indicated a significant difference for the high school level compared to both elementary and middle/junior high school levels. With means of 7.80 (SD = 8.95) for elementary and 6.83 (SD = 6.25) for middle/junior high, school counselors at those levels suspected significantly more cases of child abuse than did the high school counselors (M = 3.05, SD = 2.85) in this study. Similar results were discovered for the number of reports made as there was a significant difference by level (F [2,187] = 9.946, p = .000) with an effect size of 0.08. A Tukey post hoc test indicated a mean of 5.94 (SD = 6.38) for reports by elementary school counselors and a mean of 5.55 (SD = 4.93) for reports by middle/junior high school counselors. School counselors at those levels reported child abuse at a significantly higher level than that reported by high school counselors (M = 2.23, SD = 2.44).
School setting. ANOVAs were conducted to determine potential differences in child abuse cases suspected and reported in a 12-month period among school counselors in different settings (urban, suburban, and rural). While there were no significant differences in suspected cases, significance was found for cases reported, by setting (F [2, 181] = 4.027, p = .019), with an effect size of. 04. Due to unequal cell sizes across settings, and significance for this test statistic, post hoc differences were analyzed using Dunnett's C tests. No significant differences emerged between school settings.
A multivariate analysis of variance comparing setting (urban, suburban, rural) with types of abuse reported indicated that physical abuse reporting (F [2, 187] = 3.975, p = .020) differed significantly by setting (effect size .041). A Levine test revealed homogeneity of variance, so a Tukey post hoc test was used. Results indicated that school counselors in urban settings (M = 4.65, SD = 6.46) reported significantly more physical abuse cases than school counselors in suburban settings (M = 2.51, SD = 3.40). The other four types of abuse did not yield significant results with regard to setting.
Socioeconomic status. Finally, a Pearson correlation was calculated to examine the relationship between the percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch and the number of cases of child abuse reported by the school counselor. There was a significant positive relationship (r = .357, p = .000) between the percentage of students in a school who qualified for free and reduced lunch and the number of child abuse cases reported by their school counselor in the past year.
Decisional Factors in Making a Report
Participants were asked to indicate which factors influenced their decisions to report child abuse for each of the five types of abuse. When responses were collapsed and totaled in order to examine the most salient reasons for reporting, the two most frequently marked factors guiding participants' decision to report child abuse were following the law (n = 340) and concern for the safety of the student (n = 339). See Table 1 for additional influences and a breakdown of influences by type of abuse. Responses to the question asking which factors influenced participants' decision not to report are provided in Table 2. Across all five types of abuse, the most frequent reason given as a factor influencing a decision not to report child abuse was the concern that there was a lack of evidence (n = 204). This factor was remotely followed by a concern that CPS would not investigate (n = 139).
Perceptions of Ability to Recognize Signs of Child Abuse
Participants were asked to self-report their perceived ability to identify the five types of child abuse, with choices ranging from very uncertain (1) to very certain (4). Overall, participants were most certain of their ability to identify physical abuse (M = 3.47, SD = 0.61), which was followed closely by physical neglect (M = 3.33, SD = 0.68). Fewer counselors indicated they felt certain of their abilities to recognize supervisory neglect (M = 3.04, SD = 0.68) or sexual abuse (M = 3.04, SD = .80). School counselors rated their ability to recognize emotional abuse as least certain (M = 2.98, SD = .71; see Table 3).
Methods of Acquiring Knowledge on Child Abuse Reporting
In order to determine where school counselors acquired their training related to child abuse and child abuse reporting, participants were asked to check all applicable selections from a prepared list of seven information sources and an "Other" space for comments. The most frequently endorsed method for acquiring knowledge was professional experience (n = 167, 86.5%). Following professional experience was discussion with colleagues (n = 137, 71.0%) and then workshops (n = 136, 70.5%), followed closely by literature (n = 134, 69.4%). Over half of the participants also indicated that they acquired knowledge regarding child abuse from a course they had taken in college (n = 121, 62.7%) or from mandatory reporter training (n = 109, 56.5%). The remaining choices yielded few responses.
This study found that school counselors reported a mean of just under five cases of child abuse in a 12-month period. This number is greater than numbers reported in previous research for educators in general (Abrahams et al., 1992; Crenshaw et al., 1995; Kenny, 2001) but is very similar to findings in a recent study of school counselors by Bryant and Milsom (2005). Possible explanations for the increase in numbers found in this study are that it may simply reflect the increase in child abuse reporting over time or that perhaps school counselors report more child abuse because suspicions are referred to them by classroom teachers. This variable is unclear, as some states allow teachers to refer suspicions to a designee in their school, while other states do not permit such diffusion of responsibility. Still another potential explanation for a higher reporting level for school counselors when compared to educators in general may be the fact that school counselors, because of their trusting counseling relationship with students, may lead students to share information with their school counselor that they might otherwise keep to themselves. In addition, school counselors have greater knowledge about child abuse than do classroom teachers. Crosson-Tower (2002) best illustrated the unique position of school counselors with respect to child abuse reporting:
As specialists in human behavior, communication, and relational issues, PSCs [professional school counselors] receive specialized training in child development, therapeutic interventions, and crisis intervention such as child abuse. Based on their specialized training, PSCs are an ideal resource for educating other educators about abuse. (As cited in Lambie, 2005, p. 255)
Discrepancies between suspected cases and reported cases of abuse have received scrutiny by past researchers (Bryant & Milsom, 2005; Finkelhor & Zellman, 1991; Finlayson & Koocher, 1991). In the current study, the discrepancy was slightly more than one case per school counselor, supporting most previous research showing that mandatory reporters follow through in reporting the majority of the cases they suspect.
The current study found that school counselors reported a greater percentage of cases of physical abuse than other types of abuse, which is inconsistent with the national data in Child Maltreatment 2004 (USDHHS, 2006) showing reporting of neglect to be more prevalent. Previous studies examining discrepancies between the suspicion of abuse and reporting of child abuse found that severity of abuse and certainty the abuse was occurring correlated with a stronger reporting record (Beck & Ogloff, 1995; Crenshaw et al., 1995). Perhaps physical abuse is more likely to be reported than emotional or sexual abuse for that reason. It is plausible that physical abuse, with more visible symptoms, increases certainty and thus motivates reporting behavior. It is also possible that school counselors and other educational personnel are aware of their mandate to report, and visible signs on a child in a school setting obligate anyone with the knowledge to file a report.
This study found differences in suspected and reported cases of child abuse between levels, with high school counselors suspecting and reporting significantly fewer cases than both elementary and middle/junior high school counselors. One previous study (Bryant & Milsom, 2005) also found a discrepancy between elementary and high school counselors. Perhaps high school counselors see fewer students in a counseling setting, spend less time in classrooms, and spend more time scheduling, testing, and attending to other administrative duties. Because child abuse is difficult to disclose, it makes sense that students would be less inclined to turn to school counselors they do not know well or with whom they have not cultivated a strong relationship. The smaller percentage of cases reported by secondary counselors is consistent, however, with national data in Child Maltreatment 2004 (USDHHS, 2006) showing fewer reports of child abuse for ages 16 to 17.
No known previous studies have examined potential differences in child abuse reporting by school counselors in different geographic settings (urban, suburban, rural), and this study found no significant differences between settings. However, there was a significant difference in the number of reports for physical abuse made by school counselors in an urban setting as opposed to those made by counselors in a suburban setting. It is curious that situations such as physical neglect or supervisory neglect were not reported more often in urban settings. If the plausible explanation for the differences in reporting physical abuse is the impact of poverty, then it would make sense to infer that situations involving neglect also would be prevalent. It could be that this result is tied to an earlier result showing that school counselors report more physical abuse compared to other types of abuse, and the lack of certainty contributes to fewer reports of neglect.
This current study revealed that schools with higher percentages of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch had more cases of child abuse reported by school counselors. Only one previous study examined this relationship (Bryant & Milsom, 2005), and results of the current study were similar to the previous findings. Historically, poverty, has been repeatedly mentioned as the most salient risk factor for child abuse (Bethea, 1999), and it is unclear if this is due to stress-related conditions of poverty or a higher degree of scrutiny by those who report child abuse. A study considered one of the most comprehensive regarding the incidence of child abuse found a significantly greater number of child abuse cases for children living in poverty (Sedlak & Broadhurst, 1996). The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR) asserted poverty to be the "most important cause of child maltreatment" (NCCPR, 2003, p. 27). Therefore, school counselors would be wise to educate themselves on the risk factors of poverty as they relate to child abuse, but also be mindful that child abuse occurs in all types of families, including families at every income level.
The current study asked school counselors to indicate their reasons for reporting child abuse, in an attempt to explore decisional influences leading to reports. Additionally, participants were asked to indicate reasons that they had not reported cases. The most compelling reasons cited by participants in the current study for reporting abuse--compliance with laws and safety of student--are consistent with previous research (Beck & Ogloff, 1998; Bryant & Milsom, 2005; Crenshaw et al., 1998).
Barriers to reporting, or reasons influencing a decision not to report child abuse, illuminate the struggles that mandatory reporters face. The main reason provided for deciding not to report a suspicion of abuse was a lack of evidence, followed by concerns that the CPS would not investigate the report. These results support findings in previous research (Bryant & Milsom, 2005; Romano, 1990). Responses to the questions on reporting behaviors indicated that school counselors suspect more than they report. Perhaps one of the reasons they do not report is that they do not believe their suspicions have met a reportable threshold. While the law states a suspicion should equal a report, past reporting experience and screening practices may influence the participant's ultimate decision.
Recent studies have indicated that most school counselors feel confident in their abilities to recognize symptoms of child abuse (Bryant & Milsom, 2005; Kenny & McEachern, 2002). In this study, with reported means for all five types of abuse found in the certain to very certain range, participants appeared secure in their abilities to recognize child abuse. Notably, participants felt most confident in their ability to recognize physical abuse, which parallels earlier results in this study revealing that physical abuse was the most suspected and most reported type of child abuse by this sample. Because several types of abuse have more subtle physical and behavioral symptoms, it seems logical to explore further the issue of certainty as it relates to specific indicators in future research.
Few studies have examined mandatory reporters' views of the various types of training they have received, although the research has indicated that many feel they were poorly trained (Abrahams et al., 1992; Crenshaw et al., 1995; Hinson & Fossey, 2000; Kenny, 2004). Results of this research study indicated that the most frequently endorsed modality for knowledge regarding child abuse reporting came from past professional experience. Such a finding would merit further investigation into not only what is perceived as knowledge from past experience, but also how past experience has influenced current reporting behavior.
Implications for Future Research
Results of this study suggest three areas for future research. First, despite results suggesting that school counselors perceived themselves as capable of recognizing different types of child abuse, there is a need for further research to examine why some child abuse cases are still not identified or reported by school counselors. Many participants in the current study reported making only one report or no reports of child abuse in a 12-month period. Given the projected rates of child abuse per year, this lack of reporting is alarming. It is difficult to reconcile results of this study where school counselors endorse confidence in their abilities to identify abuse yet in many cases made very few reports within 12 months. Clearly, this issue warrants further research, perhaps from a different perspective, such as exploring perceptions of past victims.
Second, future research could examine the differences in reporting behavior by setting and level of school. Urban, suburban, and rural settings are qualitatively different, and these differences may relate to the issue of child abuse reporting. Likewise, levels of school are qualitatively different in their context as well as school counseling duties, and one might posit these differences impact child abuse reporting.
Finally, although daunting, it would be beneficial to gain a better understanding of the actual decision-making process when child abuse is suspected. What are the concerns as a report is made? What are the possible reasons that school counselors feel they "don't have enough evidence"? It is true that laws mandate reporting suspicions, but what is a reportable level of suspicion? Perhaps doing a study in real time with school counselors may provide a better understanding of influences to reporting as well as perceived barriers.
Implications for Training
In this study, school counselors reported that they relied most heavily on past professional experience and discussions with colleagues in attaining knowledge related to child abuse reporting. Perhaps current training, whether mandated by a school or presented in a university course, is not adequately meeting the needs of mandatory reporters. In order to improve training and build professional bridges, it might be beneficial for counselor education programs to utilize CPS personnel in their training of school counselors with regard to child abuse reporting. Additionally, practicing school counselors could pursue additional training by inviting CPS personnel in their area to speak with or train their faculty in the area of child abuse.
While not a part of this study specifically, the literature review revealed that malay teachers lack self-efficacy with regard to child abuse identification as well as the reporting process. School counselors are in an excellent position to offer additional training within their school, to increase the possibility that more children may be identified and receive the help they need.
Finally, while school counselors did value their training on the signs and symptoms of child abuse or on specific types of abuse, they still failed to identify some types of abuse with frequency. Students who have been sexually or emotionally abused often present with fewer symptoms than some other types of child abuse. Therefore, more comprehensive training on the soft signs of abuse and skills in exploring and questioning children who present as possible victims is warranted. An excellent place to start for additional training on specific types of abuse would be the government Web site of Child Welfare Information Gateway, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (www.childwelfare.gov/can).
Several important limitations bear consideration in the interpretation of the results of this study. One significant limitation is that data were gathered via self-report, and, as with most survey research, results may be skewed due to the bias of social desirability. Furthermore, because this study asked participants to recall behaviors from the past 12 months, it is plausible that it was difficult for some participants to accurately recall all of the information requested in this survey.
The very nature of the topic (i.e., child abuse and child abuse reporting) also may have contributed to a low return rate. Child abuse reporting is considered by many to be a moral and ethical issue, and it is also a legal issue for mandatory reporters. Therefore, completing a questionnaire about child abuse reporting behaviors may raise serious implications for some participants, and these pressures may have impacted not only the responses of the participants, but also the low return rate. Asking school counselors to admit they suspected but did not report child abuse may have motivated some participants to not respond to the questionnaire they received.
Finally, the generalizability of the results of this study is limited. The sample was diverse in some respects (e.g., age, gender, experience, and level of employment) and representative of the nation, as participants represented many regions of the United States and various settings (urban, suburban, rural). Participants in this sample were, however, almost entirely Caucasian. While it is possible that this is representative of school counselors who belong to ASCA (comparison data were unavailable at the time this research was conducted), this study may not be representative of school counselors who are not currently members of ASCA.
The issues associated with child abuse reporting are multifaceted and interrelated. If the law is to protect children as originally intended, numerous professionals must fulfill their obligations. This process commences with individuals who work with children on a regular basis, known as mandatory reporters. The process expects and assumes that mandatory reporters are competent in identifying abused children and are capable of submitting a report on behalf of abused children.
Weaknesses in any aspect of the child abuse reporting process can have serious consequences for a child in need of aid. School counselors, who are an integral part of the child abuse reporting network in their schools, are often more knowledgeable and more experienced in identifying and reporting child abuse than other mandatory reporters in the school setting. Therefore, they are the vanguards when it comes to helping children in abusive situations. Results of this study raise several issues that deserve further study. First, it would be important to explore marc specifically the difference in child abuse reporting by level. It would be useful to examine more thoroughly any differences in reporting behaviors by setting, including the variable of free and reduced lunch student population. Finally, it also would be worthwhile to study school counselors' knowledge of child abuse as it relates to the knowledge and identification of specific signs and symptoms. This information may not only shed light on possible reasons for most and least reported types of abuse, but also illuminate any need for better training in counselor education programs. Further exploration of these issues will not only help the profession of school counseling to better meet the responsibilities of child abuse reporting, but most importantly, assist marc abused and neglected children as the mandated reporter legislation intended.
Abrahams, N., Casey, K., & Daro, D. (1992).Teachers' knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about child abuse and its prevention. Child Abuse & Neglect, 16, 229-238.
Beck, K. A., & Ogloff, J. R. P. (1995). Child abuse reporting in British Columbia: Psychologists' knowledge of and compliance with the reporting law. Professional Psychology: Research & Practice, 26, 245-251.
Berliner, L. E. (2002). Sexual abuse of children. In J. E. B. Myers, L. E. Berliner, J. Briere, & C.T. Hendrix (Eds.), The ASPAC handbook on child maltreatment (2nd ed., pp. 55-78). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Bethea, L. (1999). Primary prevention of child abuse. American Family Physician, American Academy of Family Physicians. Retrieved September 17, 2008, from http://www.aafp.org/afp/990315ap/1577.html
Bryant, J., & Milsom, A. (2005). Child abuse reporting by school counselors. Professional School Counseling, 9, 63-71.
Coohey, C. (2003). Defining and classifying supervisory neglect. Child Maltreatment, 8, 145-156.
Crenshaw, W., Crenshaw, L., & Lichtenberg, J. (1995). When educators confront child abuse: An analysis of the decision to report. Child Abuse & Neglect, 19, 1095-1113.
Crosson-Tower, C. (2002). When children are abused: An educator's guide to intervention. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Dillman, D. A. (1978). Mail and telephone surveys: The total design method. New York: Wiley.
Finkelhor, D., & Zellman, G. L. (1991). Flexible reporting options for skilled child abuse professionals. Child Abuse & Neglect, 15, 335-341.
Finlayson, L. M., & Koocher, G. R (1991). Professional judgment and child abuse reporting in sexual abuse cases. Professional Psychology: Research & Practice, 22, 464-472.
Hackbarth, S., & DeVaney,, S. B. (1994). Reporting suspected sexual abuse: A study of counselor and counselor trainee responses. Elementary School Guidance & Counseling, 28, 257-263.
Hamarman, S., Pope, K. H., & Czaja, S. J. (2002). Emotional abuse in children: Variations in legal definitions and rates across the United States. Child Maltreatment, 7, 303-311.
Hinson, J., & Fossey, R. (2000). Child abuse: What teachers in the '90s know, think, and do. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 5, 251-266.
Kalichman, S. C. (1999). Mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse ethics, law, and policy (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Kenny, M. (2001). Child abuse reporting: Teachers' perceived deterrents. Child Abuse & Neglect, 25, 81-92.
Kenny, M. (2004).Teachers' attitudes toward and knowledge of child maltreatment. Child Abuse & Neglect, 28, 1311-1319.
Kenny, M., & McEachern, A. (2002). Reporting suspected child abuse: A pilot comparison of middle and high school counselors and principals. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 11, 59-74.
Kolko, D. J. (2002). Child physical abuse. In J. E. B. Myers, L. E. Berliner, J. Briere, & C.T. Hendrix (Eds.), The ASPAC handbook on child maltreatment (2nd ed, pp. 21-54). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Lambie, G. (2005). Child abuse and neglect: A practical guide for professional school counselors. Professional School Counseling, 8, 249-258.
Levine, M., & Doueck, H. (1995). The impact of mandated reporting on the therapeutic process: Picking up the pieces. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. (2003). Poverty is the leading cause of child abuse. In L. I. Gerdes (Ed.), Child abuse: Opposing viewpoints (pp. 226-230). Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press.
O'Toole, R., Webster, S. W., O'Toole, A. W., & Lucal, B. (1999). Teachers' recognition and reporting of child abuse: A factorial survey. Child Abuse & Neglect, 23, 1083-1101.
Romano, N. (1990). Schools and child abuse: A national survey of principals' attitudes, beliefs, and practices. Chicago: National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED321866)
Sedlak, A., & Broadhurst, D. (1996). Third national incidence study of child abuse and neglect. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Shireman, J. (2003). Critical issues in child welfare. New York: Columbia University Press.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families. (2005). Child maltreatment 2003. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families. (2006). Child maltreatment 2004. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Earn CEUs for reading this article. Visit wwwoschoolcounselor.org, and dick on Professional School Counseling to learn how.
Jill K. Bryant, Ph.D., was a doctoral student at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and is now an assistant professor at Indiana University--South Bend. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Table 1. Factors Influencing a Decision to Report Child Abuse by Type of Abuse Physical Physical Sexual Neglect (n = 151) (n = 57) (n = 64) Factor n % n % n % Capabilities 57 38 18 26 15 23 of CPS Concern for 142 94 51 89 54 84 safety of student Following 142 94 51 89 53 83 the law Following 120 79 43 75 43 67 school policy Counseling 111 74 34 60 46 66 relationship Possible 25 17 12 21 9 14 repercussions at work Potential 60 40 24 42 23 36 legal repercussions Strong 95 63 29 51 30 47 evidence Support of 86 57 27 47 27 42 administration Other 7 5 4 7 2 3 Supervisory Neglect Emotional Total (n = 57) (n = 48) Responses Factor n % n % Capabilities 12 21 11 23 113 of CPS Concern for 52 91 40 83 339 safety of student Following 50 88 44 92 340 the law Following 41 72 30 62 277 school policy Counseling 44 77 38 79 273 relationship Possible 10 18 7 15 63 repercussions at work Potential 23 40 23 48 153 legal repercussions Strong 25 44 21 43 200 evidence Support of 24 42 23 48 187 administration Other 4 7 3 6 20 Note. Participants could check more than one factor in each type of abuse. N = 193. Table 2. Factors Influencing a Decision Not to Report a Suspected Case of Child Abuse Physical Physical Sexual Neglect (n = 68) (n = 30) (n = 40) Factor n % n % n % Already receiving 16 24 8 27 10 25 services Concern of legal 2 3 2 7 3 8 retaliation Concern of 7 10 3 10 2 5 parental retaliation Concern of 22 32 4 13 8 20 repercussions to student by family Concern of 3 4 1 3 1 3 repercussions to family by CPS Concern CPS 31 46 11 37 22 55 wouldn't investigate Didn't want 3 4 2 7 4 10 to break confidentiality Didn't want to 3 4 2 7 5 13 damage therapeutic relationship Felt administration 3 4 4 13 3 8 wouldn't support Felt wasn't 54 79 22 73 31 78 enough evidence Not authorized 1 1 3 10 3 8 reporter for my school Principal directed 4 6 5 16 2 5 me not to Thought someone 1 1 2 7 2 5 else reported Unsure of 3 4 3 10 1 3 definitions Other 8 11 2 7 3 8 Supervisory Neglect Emotional Total (n = 60) (n = 61) Responses Factor n % n % Already receiving 11 18 8 13 53 services Concern of legal 5 8 4 7 18 retaliation Concern of 6 10 9 15 27 parental retaliation Concern of 15 25 19 31 68 repercussions to student by family Concern of 3 5 2 3 10 repercussions to family by CPS Concern CPS 35 58 30 49 139 wouldn't investigate Didn't want 2 3 4 7 15 to break confidentiality Didn't want to 5 8 6 10 21 damage therapeutic relationship Felt administration 4 7 6 10 20 wouldn't support Felt wasn't 49 82 48 79 204 enough evidence Not authorized 3 5 3 5 13 reporter for my school Principal directed 3 5 3 5 17 me not to Thought someone 2 3 3 5 10 else reported Unsure of 3 5 1 2 11 definitions Other 3 5 5 8 21 Note. Participants could check more than one factor in each type of abuse. N = 193. Table 3. Participant Ratings of Certainty in Recognizing Signs of Abuse n % M Median SD Physical abuse 3.47 4.00 0.61 Very uncertain 3 1.5 Uncertain 3 1.5 Certain 8 44.8 Very certain 99 51.6 Physical neglect 3.33 3.00 0.68 Very uncertain 4 2.1 Uncertain 11 5.7 Certain 95 49.0 Very certain 82 42.3 Sexual abuse 3.04 3.00 0.80 Very uncertain 4 2.1 Uncertain 4 23.7 Certain 80 41.2 Very certain 61 31.4 Supervisory neglect 3.04 3.00 0.68 Very uncertain 4 2.1 Uncertain 28 14.4 Certain 114 58.8 Very certain 44 22.7 Emotional abuse 2.98 3.00 0.71 Very uncertain 6 3.1 Uncertain 31 16.0 Certain 113 58.2 Very certain 40 20.6 Note. N = 185. 1 = very uncertain, 2 = uncertain, 3 = certain, 4 = very certain. Percentages equal less than 100% as some participants did not indicate certainty ratings for same items.
|Gale Copyright:||Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.|