ROLES OF SCHOOLS AND THE EDUCATION SECTOR IN
PREVENTING AND ADDRESSING VIOLENCE AND ABUSE
To be effective in promoting student success, schools must create and maintain safe and supportive environments that are conducive to teaching and learning. Doing so includes supporting the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of all members of the school community (e.g., educators and other school personnel, students, and families). This is a complex and demanding responsibility that requires strong leadership, preparation, and engagement that extends beyond the boundaries of the school day and the schoolyard.
One aspect of this responsibility, and an especially important role for the education sector, is ensuring the physical safety of students and the school community. Examples of laws, policies, and programs to support student safety abound. The following sections describe the roles of schools and the education sector in preventing and responding to child maltreatment and interpersonal violence. Lessons from research and practice in these areas can inform the education sector’s role in preventing and responding to commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors.
Teachers and other school personnel are among the groups of individuals who are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect in virtually every state (HHS, 2011). In 2010, education personnel were among the most common reporting sources for child maltreatment (HHS, 2011). Results from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence revealed that “school authorities are more likely to find out about victimizations experienced by children and adolescents than other authorities” (Finkelhor et al., 2011, p. 14).
To comply with mandatory reporting requirements, school districts have developed specific protocols and policies for school personnel to follow when child maltreatment is suspected or disclosed. These protocols and policies, which build on state statutes, ensure that school personnel understand their responsibilities and know how to make a report to child protective services or other authorities. Many schools and school districts also provide special training to help their employees recognize signs and report instances of child maltreatment.
In addition to reporting child maltreatment that has already occurred, many schools engage in a variety of prevention strategies to address both child maltreatment and interpersonal violence (e.g., bullying and adolescent dating violence) in their school communities (Henry et al., 2012; Vreeman and Carroll, 2007; Wolfe et al., 2009). These programs take many forms,