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)

Pelzer’s 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. Pelzer’s father, also an alcoholic, who ignored his wife’s abusive
tendencies, even though he secretly indicated to his son that he did not condone
it, compounded the abusive behavior. The father’s silence served to validate
the mother’s actions. Pelzer’s teachers and administrators also maintained
silence, thus compounding his feeling of isolation. These events occurred during
the 1960’s and early 1970’s, so the behavior of both Pelzer’s father and
his educators was not unusual. Physical discipline was more accepted during that
time than it is now. Pelzer was rescued from his mother’s 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 Pelzer’s 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 Pelzer’s 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 don’t 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
needn’t 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 child’s
life. Isn’t 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. "Who’s Going to School With Your

Kids?" Reader’s Digest 156 (2000): 76-82. Pelzer, Dave. A Child Called

"It": One Child’s Courage to Survive. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health

Communications, Inc., 1995. Pelzer, Dave. The Lost Boy: A Foster Child’s

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. Wednesday’s 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. "Who’s Going to School With Your Kids?"

Reader’s Digest 156 (2000): 76-82. Pelzer, Dave. A Child Called "It": One

Child’s Courage to Survive. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc.,

1995. Pelzer, Dave. The Lost Boy: A Foster Child’s 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. Wednesday’s Children: Adult Survivors of Abuse Speak

Out. New York: Putnam/HealingVision, 1992.