Reporting Suspected Abuse Can be Confusing

I loved my teacher education classes.  I applied to student teach elementary aged students.  My sons were in preschool and grade three, so I was confident with children their ages.

My first four-week assignment was with a third-grade class.  Every morning my supervising teacher wrote the plan for the day on the left edge of the green board in her best handwriting.  She began the day by talking through it with the students.  I imitated this habit throughout my career.

My second four-week assignment was with to fifth-grade.  The teacher had recently given birth to twins and was struggling to transition back to work.  One day she was absent, and a substitute was assigned to our class, as required for insurance purposes.  But I taught and managed the class that day.  Students were quietly working in response to an assignment and one girl raised her hand.

“Mrs. Kerr, can I borrow your sweater?  I fell on my tailbone this weekend and it hurts.”

I folded up my red bulky sweater so it could serve as her seat cushion, and she sat on it.  But throughout that day and night, I turned her question over and over in my mind.  I looked up signs of abuse in one of my textbooks.  A few signs applied to the girl who had borrowed my sweater:

  • She seemed distracted, distant, insecure or withdrawn
  • She had recently begun to skip lunch
  • She would sometimes recoil from incidental contact

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We had been taught to report suspicions of abuse, so I went to school early the next day, not sure that the clues I had observed added up.  When I walked into the faculty lounge, the school counselor happened to be there.  I asked if I could speak to him privately.

Not realizing my supervising teacher had been absent, the counselor went directly to her for clarification.  She reacted angrily, asking why I hadn’t informed her first.  Our interactions that day were tense.

I left school thinking my teaching career might end before it began.  But it didn’t.  That evening the principal called and told me that it was likely my student had been abused.  Child Protective Services were investigating further.

The Christian Bible tells us to “defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.”  But doing that can be confusing, risky, and tiring.  Maybe weariness is sometimes a badge of honor?

Application:  Dear friend, whether you defend someone short term, like I did, or long term, you are doing the kind of work God does.  “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Weary friend, pray daily for alertness, wisdom and bravery as you watch over those entrusted to your care.  Ask for advice and help from others, too.

Reflection:

How are you currently living out the call to defend the weak?  Who could help you do that more effectively?

Recommended Reading:

Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal by Eric L. Johnson

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