Last Friday I attended the meeting of the Morris County Traumatic Loss Coalition and had the pleasure of listening to the presentation by Anthony DeVincenzo, director of Deirdre’s House in Morristown, NJ (www.deirdreshouse.org), located on 8 Court street, Tel. 973-631-5000.
The most important message from Mr. DeVincenzo was that child abuse is a real issue in our society, with about 3,000,000 reports filed annual in the USA involving about 6,000,000 children, and 5 children who die every day from abuse or neglect. Mr. DeVincenzo reviewed the chilling statistics reporting that one out of four girls are victims of sexual abuse before age 18, one out of five children is a victim of internet sexual exploitation and the grim estimate that only one or two children out of ten disclosing their abuse.
Mr. DeVincenzo had previously a career in law enforcement as a detective and later supervisor dealing with child abuse allegations. From the perspective of a long career in the child abuse field he described the process that was typical before the Child Advocacy Center model was put in place, such as Deirdre’s House in Morristown. In previous years, children were re-traumatized by the very system that attempted to protect them, since the process subjected them to repetitive inquires and examinations. Following a disclosure by the child, usually to a teacher, the child would be interviewed by representatives of the school, then law enfocement, physicians, mental health professionals, all requiring the traumatized child to re-tell the story of what happened to him or her.
Mr. DeVincenzo explained the enormous benefit of the Child Advocacy Model wherein the child who disclosed allegations of abuse is brought to a child-friendly environment such as Deirdre’s House in which they give their story only once. The story is taped, allowing other professionals to review the taped testimony without re-traumatizing the child.
A most heart-felt message to be taken from the presentation was the need to train teachers how to respond appropriately to intentional or non-intentional disclosure of abuse by a child. The reaction of the person who is first to hear the child is critical in determining what will follow, how will the child feel about disclosing the abuse to others and seeking further help.
Teachers need to understand the scope of the problem and know that abuse can happen and does happen. It is not the teacher’s role to investigate the allegations, it is their job to assess if there is a risk that abuse is happening, based on the child’s disclosure or on other clues. If risk for abuse is there, the teacher must make a report. New Jersey is a mandated report state, in which, in principle, everyone is mandated to report abuse, and school have a dual reporting responsibility, both to the Division of Child Protective Services and to local Law enforcement.
If ever in need to report potential child abuse, call 1-877 NJ Abuse, the hotline is active at all times.