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Child Abuse: A Lesson for Teachers

July 06, 1986|STEVE APPLEFORD | Times Staff Writer

The teachers looked a bit like their young pupils for a day, shifting quietly in the small chairs at the Thomas Edison Elementary School in Altadena. But the subject at hand was strictly for grown-ups.

"I don't want anyone to go to jail," Frank Jameson, coordinator of youth services for the Pasadena Police Department, told the dozen or so Pasadena Unified School District employees. "We want kids to be protected by a network of people who know what's going on."

The teachers were taking part in one of a series of programs sponsored by school districts to educate employees about their responsibilities for reporting suspected child abuse.

Under the California Child Abuse Reporting Law, enacted in 1963 and most recently revised in 1985, teachers and other professionals who regularly come into contact with children are "mandated reporters" who are required to verbally report suspected child abuse to authorities as soon as possible and in writing within 36 hours.

Mandated reporters who fail to make reports face up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine and potentially the loss of state teaching credentials.

"One of the tragedies is that there are large numbers of kids who are seen by mandated reporters, who . . . have concern about the safety of children but don't report," Jameson said. "And often the result . . . is the continuation of abuse."

The state law does not require school districts to provide educational programs for employees, but officials say they are doing so to protect more children and to protect themselves from lawsuits.

More than 500 school districts in the state have begun programs since last December, when the law was revised, said Jane Lyon, program specialist for the Pomona Unified School District's child abuse prevention program.

"I think the McMartin case must have helped trigger it, and the parents are behind it," said Lyon, who is also president of the Pomona chapter of the California Child Abuse Consortium.

Several San Gabriel Valley school districts, including those in Alhambra, Covina Valley, Duarte, Pasadena and Pomona, this year adopted programs designed to inform employees about the law and its ramifications and plan to expand on them in the fall. Other districts depend on printed materials or are just now starting more intensive programs.

Jameson, whose one-hour sessions at the Pasadena school district's 30 schools are co-sponsored by the Pasadena Police Department and the Pasadena chapter of the Los Angeles County Medical Auxiliary, said his program is the result of a decision last year by his office to step up its efforts to uncover abuse, neglect and failure to act on suspected abuse.

His office contacted the Pasadena district, which includes campuses in Altadena and Sierra Madre, and the district decided to work in concert with the police on the program.

"If nothing else, it (the program) makes all of our employees very conscious of the law," said Jean Almore, director of staff development for the Pasadena district.

"If people are aware, we can protect more children," Almore said. "And, ultimately, that is what we want to do."

Lyon praised the Pasadena program for its collaboration with the local Police Department.

Police Involvement

"By involving the police, it makes sure that they are there with you," Lyon said. "Getting them to do something in this area is a problem and is something that we've been striving for a long time."

Marcia McVey, assistant superintendent of instruction for the Duarte Unified School District, said teachers and other school employees in her district have reacted positively to Duarte's program, under which teachers and staff are sent to seminars at the district offices where they hear speakers and watch videotapes.

"They're pleased to have it," McVey said. "(The law) has been pretty fuzzy for a lot of people, and I think this has given them some direction."

At the Rowland Unified School District, administrators think their employees are already well informed about the law and need little more than to be reminded periodically with printed materials.

Creating an Awareness

"Basically, we feel we have met the intent of the law by creating an awareness of what we have to do," said John Matson, the district's director of personnel services.

Jerry Holland, superintendent of the Baldwin Park Unified School District, said he thinks that the revised law has been effective in getting more child abuse cases reported. And it has helped make teachers feel more secure in reporting their suspicions, since the law protects those who report from civil or criminal liability if no child abuse is found, he said.

Holland said that, so far, his district has no formal program, although it supplies employees with printed information about the law and its ramifications.

But even after reading the information, Holland said he is not sure employees understand the full consequences of failure to report.

Failure to Report

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