Changes to child abuse reporting are underway at Weakley County Schools.
For more than 50 years in Tennessee, any person with reasonable cause to believe a child is being abused or neglected must, under the law, immediately report to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services or to local law enforcement.
Weakley County Schools Communications Director Karen Campbell says as the 2020-21 academic year began, schools statewide were mandated to make adjustments to the established protocols related to reporting abuse or neglect.
Each school is now required to identify a staff member who will take on the additional role of Child Abuse Coordinator (CAC).
The CAC is charged with ensuring annual training is provided to all staff and all suspected abuse reports are properly documented and submitted.
The CAC or (if that person is not available) an alternate is now the first stop for any adult employed by the school or in a board-approved volunteer positions such as volunteer coaches who have knowledge of or suspect abuse or neglect. Previously, the adult who first spoke with the child was required to report knowledge of abuse directly to the Department of Children’s Services. Now, the child and the adult to whom the abuse has been revealed must speak with the CAC. A report is then jointly submitted to DCS and law enforcement. In Weakley County Schools, law enforcement is represented by the School Resource Officers.
Weakley County Schools has expanded annual staff training efforts to include all regular substitute teachers and board-approved volunteer coaches. The training covers what to look for, how to talk with a child about abuse and/or neglect, and the steps for reporting.
In a recent letter to volunteer coaches, Director of Schools Randy Frazier wrote, “Because you are an approved volunteer coach, and as such have a unique opportunity to create a rapport with the students you coach, a student may one day approach you wanting to tell you about possible abuse. You need to know how to appropriately respond to this type of situation as well as what to do should you suspect abuse.”
Campbell says, currently, due to the pandemic, Weakley County Schools has limited overnight travel, but in the future, when travel is more routine, chaperones will be required to participate in the training as well.
The “Stewards of Children” Child abuse training is provided through the Weakley/Obion Counties Exchange Club Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse. At present, these sessions are offered virtually.
As a result of the change in legislation, schools may not contact a parent directly and must refer all questions to DCS and/or law enforcement.