Mandatory Reporting….. Mandatory Prevention??

Penn State announced today  that they now require all employees to report suspected child abuse to state authorities.   Many advocates will express raging ambivalence that this is too little too late, and there is some truth to that.  But consider the fact that Pennsylvania laws specify one of the most limited groups of mandated reporters of suspected child abuse of any state in the country.  The only people required by Pennsylvania law to report  suspected child abuse are people who “in the course of their employment, occupation, or practice of their profession”,  come into contact with children; many states require anyone who knows or suspects abuse to contact authorities.    Very few institutions anywhere adopt policies that go beyond the state requirements; Penn State is certainly to be commended for doing that.

 As a prevention advocate I feel compelled to use this opportunity to emphasize my strongly held belief that we need to spent as much effort educating the public how to prevent child abuse as we spend educating the public on reporting child abuse.  What might happen if everybody who comes into contact with children in the course of their occupation played a role in prevention?   Physicians could follow the suggestion of the American Academy of Pediatricians and provide parents with anticipatory guidance so they know how to interpret and react to their child’s moods and behavior.   Health teachers could provide accurate information about the human body so pedophiles couldn’t trap kids lacking understanding of autonomic arousal.  Crossing guards might receive in-service training to help identify predators.  The list could go on!

Penn State did a good thing by adding all of their employees to the narrow list of mandated reporters of child abuse in Pennsylvania.  But can we please start looking at what else we all might do so that there are fewer cases to report?

Be prepared — Sex Abuse CAN happen here!

Some people like to believe that abuse of children is a problem restricted to the poor, or disadvantaged.  No so.   The sex abuse allegations involving a prep school upscale enough to  include the son of a governor  are a stark reminder that people who prey on kids can be anywhere.

Predators come in all shapes, sizes, neighborhoods and income levels.  They can ingratiate themselves into the lives of children and families as friends, coaches, clergy, baby sitters or teachers.   The most important step a parent can take is to have  open and honest  age-appropriate  conversations with their children throughout their childhood and adolescence.  Natural discussions that include all parts of the body are a key.   Conversational lessons about nice relationships — the kind where everyone considers each others feelings –can start with toddlers and continue as children develop a wider circle of acquaintances.  And here’s the step that most people skip — ensure that your child’s school and the other institutions in your community have take steps to prevent sexual abuse and have a well thought out policy on how to respond if allegations are made.

The best news to come out of this story  from the NJ prep school is that the administration appears to be behaving responsibly.   The alleged perpetrator was brought back from another state to face the NJ investigation and press reports quote his superiors as saying he is being kept under tight restrictions.

The title of this blog post mirrors the title of the last chapter in my book, The Sex Wise Parent.  There’s a lot to learn about being a prepared family and community, and you can find it in my book.