Child Abuse Training For Teachers Both Praised and Criticized by Experts

By Alice Salles
Alice Salles
Alice Salles
November 1, 2019 Updated: November 1, 2019

In California, child care providers are being instructed on how to better deal with children victims of trauma, introducing a series of classes that are part of the Emergency Child Care Bridge Program for Foster Children.

Additionally, the program gives foster parents six-month vouchers for child care and additional resources to help them find long-term solutions.

The program was created in 2018 and cost taxpayers $31 million. Then the state legislature added $10 million more for the 2019-2020 budget. Most of this additional funding is going toward the vouchers. But why did the state develop this program now?

According to official statistics, the number of child abuse cases have been dropping nationwide. However, states like California are experiencing a growing number of small children entering the foster care system.

According to the UC Berkeley California Child Welfare Indicators Project, between July 2018 and June 2019, nearly half of all children who entered the foster care system were under the age of six. Up until the creation of the Emergency Child Care Bridge Program, foster families had to decline taking in small children due to a lack of access to subsidized child care. In many cases, when foster parents would find suitable child care, providers did not have the necessary skills to help victims of abuse or children who had been taken from their parents at a very young age.

But once the Emergency Bridge Program kickstarted in April 2019, Jessica Kieffer, director of Leaps and Bounds Preschool and Infant Center in Palmdale, north of Los Angeles, told reporters that taking care of these children became a much more rewarding experience.

“It really hurts your heart to see a child being so angry inside, and so aggressive,” Kieffer told EdSource.

Unfortunately, during her child development studies, she never learned anything about children who had gone through trauma. Having access to the training she needed made a huge difference.

Kieffer is one of many providers benefiting from the trauma classes, which are offered in 46 counties. Unfortunately, some insiders told The Epoch Times that classes such as these aren’t enough to deal with the ongoing problem of child abuse both the state and the country are currently facing.

Joseph Hoelscher, the managing attorney at Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda PLLC, a law firm that focuses on child abuse cases, said in an email to The Epoch Times that state officials are giving more attention to trauma because more than two-thirds of all children in the United States reported “at least one traumatic event by age sixteen and approximately 683,000 children were victims of abuse or neglect in 2015.”

This data, which comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a division of the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, illustrates why child care providers must learn “more about how damaging childhood trauma is over time.”

These classes, Hoelscher said, are a great step in the right direction, but not the only solution officials should be looking at.

“Child welfare agencies have not been effective in breaking the cycle of trauma and reducing the rate of child abuse and neglect, so child welfare experts are looking for new, more holistic approaches to reducing the impact of trauma on children.”

According to the attorney, “we need to address trauma throughout a child’s environment, not just after a crisis has been reached that brings in a state agency.”

Furthermore, children could benefit greatly from resources “deployed among the people who deal with children regularly so that trauma can be recognized and mitigated earlier and consistently,” he added. That includes not only giving teachers and providers training, but also “parents, medical providers, and other caregivers, as well as improving the availability of resources such as counseling and health care.”

To Dean Tong, a forensic trial consultant, author, speaker and expert who specializes in assisting attorneys and parents in false abuse allegations cases, the additional training might be well-meaning, but expanding it to more child care providers may end up having “unintended and damaging consequences,” he told The Epoch Times.

“Child care providers are mandated reporters of child abuse and are required by law to report any reasonable suspicion of child abuse. If they fail to do so their license and certification can be revoked and they can be arrested for misdemeanor failure to report,” he explained. This gives providers an incentive to report any and all potential signs of abuse, even if they aren’t the product of actual neglect at home.

“Child care workers, for the most part, do not look for alternative explanations or sources or origins of trauma, if trauma exists, in children,” he told The Epoch Times. “In other words, if a child presents with marks or bruises, could be Mongolian Warts in an African-American child or accidental, a worker may assume they’re caused by parental abuse.”

And even if a child presents other kind of potential signs such as regressive behaviors, nightmares, wetting the floor, etc., Tong added, workers will often do little to look into the matter independently, calling the Child Protective Services or even the police first instead.

At this point, he added, investigations will be carried out without “memory source monitoring of the child victim … [or any] screening for possible coaching or other factors … that may be directly relevant to unfounded or false allegations.” In the end, he said, officials will review the case with the “confirmatory biased, or foregone conclusion mindset that abuse happened.”

As a matter of fact, he added, a study conducted by Dr. David Finkelhor found that while the incidence of child abuse and child sexual abuse decreased by about 50 percent nationwide since 1992, the number of abuse reports and allegations remained constant.

Despite this criticism, professionals in the area such as New Mexico social worker Brianna Fitzgerald believe that child abuse is a serious problem nationwide and that it’s only getting worse.

“The issue of increased abuse amongst America is drastic,” she told The Epoch Times. “More and more children are being taken into [the system] each day. I have heard of cases where the child had to sleep in CPS offices because there was no room for foster care placement at the time.”

Unfortunately, she added, the foster care system is also failing these children.

While working at a treatment foster care agency, she told The Epoch Times, she noticed that to become a foster parent was fairly easy.

“Whether the foster parent had experience or not, they were hired. Some foster parents would not pass background checks, but they were hired anyway.”

To her, this is obviously due to the increased need for foster parents.

To Tong, addressing child abuse must use a different approach altogether, being tough on parents who abuse, but also careful not to condemn parents when they are the victims of false reports.

“I think the perception of trauma to children has increased, absolutely, with the rise of the Me Too movement,” he told The Epoch Times. “I’m not saying abuse doesn’t happen, [but this latest effort might as well be] very well-meaning but potentially misguided.”

In the end, he added, it could “generate more false alarms” and fail to protect actual victims.

Alice Salles
Alice Salles