Care About Children We who have been entrusted with the education and care of children are obligated to go “above and beyond” when it comes to looking out for their welfare. Educators and administrators have no recourse but to look beyond the surface, investigate if necessary, and protect the children to whom we have made ourselves responsible. Dave Pelzer, who is currently an advocate for abused children, has written a compelling three book series detailing his own life as an abused child and the aftereffects of his abuse. His case was the third worst case of child abuse on record in the state of California. (Pelzer, 1995, 168) Pelzers mother was an alcoholic who was both physically and emotionally abusive to him. What made this a terrible situation more unique was that the mother did not abuse her other four children.
Only Dave was the target of her hatred. Pelzers father, also an alcoholic, who ignored his wifes abusive tendencies, even though he secretly indicated to his son that he did not condone it, compounded the abusive behavior. The fathers silence served to validate the mothers actions. Pelzers teachers and administrators also maintained silence, thus compounding his feeling of isolation. These events occurred during the 1960s and early 1970s, so the behavior of both Pelzers father and his educators was not unusual.
Physical discipline was more accepted during that time than it is now. Pelzer was rescued from his mothers cruelty in 1973 by a school nurse and counselor, after dealing with her extreme abuse for almost ten years. His teachers and administrators had for years seen him attend school in rags, unwashed, often with bruises and abrasions, but as stated earlier, these were different times. When the school nurse determined she could no longer stand by and accept this abusive behavior, she saw to it that county services was contacted. Pelzer goes on to relate how his emotional damage contributed to his moving often between foster homes.
He never felt adequate, and these feelings of inadequacy compounded Pelzers problems and anxieties that children in foster homes normally feel. Pelzer speaks of his first marriage ending in failure, due mostly to his lack of ability to trust and effectively communicate with his wife. His adult life has been built around raising his son in as healthy and environment as possible. He speaks repeatedly of wanting to ensure the cycle of abuse does not continue through him. His second marriage has been a close-knit partnership, with trust and open lines of communication.
The purpose in recounting so much information in Pelzers books is to remind us that we, as educators, must take our responsibilities as caretakers of children with the highest degree of importance. Even though child abuse is abhorrent, it can be stopped and, as in the case of Dave Pelzer, through discipline and hard work, the cycle of abuse can be broken. Although these abusive types of parents are thankfully in the minority, they do exist. It is therefore imperative that we maintain awareness of any unusual circumstances we may notice concerning our children. Reclusive behavior, unexplained bruises or other marks, unattended physical hygiene, or violent outbursts should be cause for concern. (Gestwicki, 435) This is not to say that we should become paranoid and report every child with a bruise as a victim of abuse.
We should, however, be aware of unusual mannerisms or circumstances and act when we feel we have a right to be concerned. Documenting any suspicions and findings is essential. This can uncover any trends or patterns that may exist. Keep in mind that children will often cover up for and attempt to protect abusive parents. This is also a huge load for a child to bear; the responsibility of “taking care of” a parent who is abusive is an excessive burden.
(Somers, 62) Valerie Bivens, a social worker in California, stresses that most of us are unaware of the extent of child abuse. Often instances of abuse go unreported, and the child may turn their anger against themselves or others, continuing the cycle of abuse. (Pelzer, 1995, 171) Over three million cases of child abuse were reported in 1996, and nearly one third of that number were substantiated cases. (Gestwicki, 435) Claudia Black stated that children who are abused would normally have feelings of low self-worth. Those who should be loved and trusted abuse them; therefore these children do not feel safe or protected. (Somers, 33) Compounding our concerns even more are studies that show that teachers, contract workers, and other school employees are also among those who mistreat our children.
(Karp, 78) Many states dont administer background checks for teachers or other school employees. This allows those with criminal records to move from one school system to another, often from state to state, in order to continue to teach or work in some capacity within the education system. Missouri currently does not have a requirement for background checks for contract workers. This means that a janitor or person who works in a lunchroom has the capability to be convicted of a sex crime and be hired on at another institution without fear of being recognized by his/her criminal record. This is more than a little alarming. Kansas laws are even more lenient, not requiring a background check for teachers. (Karp, 81) This puts the onus on us as teachers, administrators, counselors, and parents to carefully evaluate all adults with whom we see our children make contact. There is no such thing as being too careful. Again, we neednt become paranoid and start witch-hunts, but we must remain cognizant of what is going on with those under our care.
Abuse is an unpleasant topic, at best. However, if we are to do justice to the children we care for, we must be aware of its existence. Of the millions of reported cases of child abuse each year, how many could have been changed or halted by a concerned teacher or administrator? If we maintain awareness we can make a difference in a childs life. Isnt that what drew us to working with children in the first place? Bibliography Gestiwicki, Carol. Home, School, and Community Relations.
New York: Delmar Thomson Learning, 2000 Karp, Hal. “Whos Going to School With Your Kids?” Readers Digest 156 (2000): 76-82. Pelzer, Dave. A Child Called “It”: One Childs Courage to Survive. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 1995.
Pelzer, Dave. The Lost Boy: A Foster Childs Search for the Love of a Family. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 1997. Pelzer, Dave. A Man Named Dave: A Story of Triumph and Forgiveness. New York: Penguin Group, 1999. Somers, Suzanne. Wednesdays Children: Adult Survivors of Abuse Speak Out.
New York: Putnam/HealingVision, 1992. Bibliography Gestiwicki, Carol. Home, School, and Community Relations. New York: Delmar Thomson Learning, 2000 Karp, Hal. “Whos Going to School With Your Kids?” Readers Digest 156 (2000): 76-82. Pelzer, Dave. A Child Called “It”: One Childs Courage to Survive.
Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 1995. Pelzer, Dave. The Lost Boy: A Foster Childs Search for the Love of a Family. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 1997. Pelzer, Dave.
A Man Named Dave: A Story of Triumph and Forgiveness. New York: Penguin Group, 1999. Somers, Suzanne. Wednesdays Children: Adult Survivors of Abuse Speak Out. New York: Putnam/HealingVision, 1992.