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



Talking with the child

Even though children who are abused/neglected need help, often, when asked, they initially deny being abused, as they might be afraid of their parents’ reaction, or of any other consequences such an admission could have (let us not forget that children love their parents, even if the latter do not treat them in an appropriate way).

It is important that teachers can provide the child with a safe environment in which to talk –this DOES NOT include a promise of confidentiality on the part of the teacher regarding the abuse– and that they can “read between the lines” of what the child is saying. They should not ask the child to give more information than that which the child seems willing to entrust them with, nor insist to be shown bruising, scars, or other evidence of abuse. It is not the teacher’s responsibility to try and establish whether or not what the child is saying is true. The teacher should show the child that he respects and commends its decision to reach out and seek help, reassure it that it is not at fault for the abuse it has been suffering, and that he will ensure that the child gets the help it requires to be safe.

Actions of the Educator – asking for help

The purpose of this article is not to explain the legal procedures an educator should follow when he becomes aware of a case of abuse/neglect. Certainly however, such situations are difficult and challenging.

It is the teacher’s responsibility to report the abuse, but that does not mean that he too does not require support. An important step in this direction is for the teacher to discuss his suspicions or certainty that abuse is taking place with people from the school environment, who, by virtue of their position, have a right to know what is happening to children attending the school. It is, however, also important that the teacher chooses people with whom he has a good personal relationship and whom he trusts. It could be the school’s principal, a counsellor, the school’s activities coordinator. Furthermore, the teacher could seek help through one of the helplines that specialize in matters concerning children, parents and educators.

Above all, the teacher must truly believe that it is his duty to act in the children’s best interest. 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 Psychodynamic Theories. Department of Education and Department of Early Childhood Education. National & Kapodistrian University of Athens.