Monday, November 11, 2013

Ask Torah Umesorah - Can you screen sex abusers in schools?

 The Vulnerable Children Bill, now before a select committee, could significantly tighten up on how people work with and for children.
The controversial piece of legislation states that within six months, a new, complex vetting and screening process for teachers will be developed.
The bill stems from the White Paper for Vulnerable Children and the Children's Action plan spearheaded by the Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett.
The minister said training would be made available to all school staff to enable them to detect signs of child abuse.
"It would be both a surprise and a concern if teachers didn't want to do it."
By 2015 standard child protection policies for organisations including schools will be legislated.

These will incorporate reporting systems to recognise and report child abuse.
School's will risk hefty fines if they are found ignoring them.
Amanda Meynell, Child Matters national manager of child protection, said this was a huge breakthrough.
"This is the first time we have had a whole government approach looking out for our vulnerable children.
"Every day there are children who live in fear of abuse and neglect and we don't know about all of them. It's really important that people know what signs to look out for."
She said a lot of Child Matters training was about being safe, not sorry. "Often people don't raise concerns out of fear they are wrong. But we always say ‘what if you're right?' "
The vetting process will ensure that if known child abusers attempt to work with children, they will be identified and the children protected.
Ms Meynell said the vetting system would be more robust than a police and background check. Among other things it would involve having people who knew about child protection on the interview panel, she said.
New Zealand Principals' Federation president Philip Harding said the idea of compulsory child sex training was promising.
"We need to strengthen school staff's ability to recognise and identify the symptoms of abuse in children and then to act wisely swiftly and safely," he said.
"But there are risks around that process as well, like casting questions of doubt on someone who is innocent."
New Zealand Teachers Council director Peter Lind doubted that there could be an easily applied test for child abusers within a school's budget constraints.
"In reality if you wanted a test that would give you very good predictability and be highly reliable and valid, you are asking for a significant psychological screening."

He said teaching staff were required to have yearly appraisals ensuring they were not put in "vulnerable positions" such as finding themselves alone with children.
These appraisals are centred around an annual plan and should consist of conversations with both the teacher and the students, Mr Lind said.
Proof the system works was in the statistics, he said.
"We have over 100,000 registered teachers. We've had shocking cases of paedophilia but in terms of the total number working in the field it's a terribly small proportion that these incidents have happened."
Preventing or exposing that relied on strong policies, open communication and competent leadership, he said.
But the appraisals were not flawless.
"In our experience usually you see indicators that people have acted outside the policies of the school and no one has told them not to."
He said if there were any concerns, it was the principal's job to have the "hard conversation".
"Sometimes we don't broach those subjects hoping they will go away."
But the biggest difficulty arose when no one spoke up, he said.
"There can be lots of checks and balances in place but occasionally someone abuses not only children but the profession itself.
"We need to make examples of those individuals and say this is totally unacceptable behaviour. I can't give you a sure-fire way of avoiding these [incidences] every single time."