Identify & Help For Educators

The Role of the Educator

It is a fact that we do not know exactly how many cases of child abuse and/or neglect occur in Greece each year, as there is no official system in place for identifying cases and collecting and recording data. According to estimates however, it is believed that there are a few thousand cases each year and that they concern children of all ages.  Therefore, child abuse is not only a grievous matter for the children-victims themselves, leading to very adverse consequences for their overall psychological and physical development, but also a major social problem.

Since these children were not fortunate enough to find themselves in a supportive family, society needs to fulfil that role. The person that provides the closest link between the child and the community in which it lives is the child’s teacher. Besides, in many instances teachers are a child’s first contact with someone outside the family environment and certainly someone with whom it comes into contact every day of the week, someone they know well and (it is to be hoped) they trust.

The educator, on his part, has taken on the task of educating children, and this role, as is well known, is not limited to teaching the curriculum, but also encompasses guiding children in how to take care of themselves. Even in countries like Greece, where the institutional duty of educators to identify and report cases of abuse and neglect is a rather grey area, most educators consider it their moral duty to protect children and to prevent situations that may place them in danger. Besides, they realize that not even the most basic level of teaching can be achieved if a child is not well and does not live in a safe environment.

How can an educator identify instances of abuse?

Two possible answers to an educator’s concerns

Abuse

Neglect

Talking to the Child

Although children who are abused/neglected need help, many times when asked, they initially deny experiencing abuse, as they may fear their parents’ reaction and the other consequences that this admission might have (let’s not forget that children love their parents, even if they are not treated properly).

It is important for educators to provide a safe environment for the child to speak to them – this DOES NOT include promising to keep the abuse confidential – and to “read between the lines” of what the child says. They do not ask the child to give them more information than the child wants to trust them with, nor do they insist on the child showing signs of abuse. It is not the educator’s job to investigate whether the child’s statements are true. The educator should show the child that they honor and commend their decision to open up and seek help, assure them that it’s not their fault they are experiencing abuse, and ensure that they will receive the help they need to be safe.

The actions of the educator – seeking help

The goal of this text is not to explain the legal procedures that educators must follow when they perceive a case of abuse/neglect. However, it is certainly a difficult and demanding condition.

It is the responsibility of the educator to report the abuse, but it does not mean they do not need support themselves. An important step in this direction is to discuss suspicions or certainty with individuals in the school environment who, by position, have the right to know what is happening with the school’s children – it is important, however, to choose individuals with whom the educator has a good personal relationship and trusts: it could be the school principal, the school psychologist, the coordinator of educational work, the school counselor. Additionally, the educator can seek support from phone lines specializing in issues of children, parents, and educators.

Above all, however, the educator needs to deeply believe that they are obligated to act in the best interest of the children. And all children have the right to live in a safe environment, free from abuse and neglect.

Leda Anagnostaki, MSc, PhD. Assistant Professor of Developmental Psychology with an emphasis on Psychoanalytic Theories. Department of Education and Early Childhood Education. National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.