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Monday, April 6, 2009

Moving Mountains...

Students in today’s schools, particularly middle and high schools, face an ever growing mountain of tough life situations and decisions to overcome. As future school psychologists we have to prepare ourselves to help these students cope with an array of problems that do not have easy solutions and that are often controversial topics when it comes to minors such as teen pregnancy, sexual activity and STDs, substance abuse, and violence of many different forms. Oftentimes students, parents, staff, and the community expect that we as school psychologists should be able to move this mountain of problems away from or off the student. While best treating the student a school psychologist must also keep in mind confidentiality policies, district policies, and state and federal regulations. There is a lot to consider when counseling students and these issues arise.
As school psychologists one of the most important things to be keep a watchful eye on are signs of child abuse or neglect, as it is our duty to report suspected cases that are made in good faith and the procedures made under state law for reporting are followed. We are fortunate that if the two previous criterion are followed than we are protected from civil or criminal actions for reporting a suspected case to the proper authorities.
Consider the following case:
John is a 6 year old boy in the middle of his second school year as a kindergarten student. At the beginning of last school year his mother left him and sister behind in care of their aunt who obtained legal guardianship. The aunt chose to have John repeat kindergarten due to poor academic progress. John’s teacher this year, Mrs. Smith, recommended John for the art therapy program in October to due his elaborate drawings and dictations of those drawings of various violent scenarios (shootings, bombs, fire etc), his continual thumb-sucking habit, and knowing his home life was not of optimal care. Over the course of the school year the art therapist, teacher, and school nurse communicate and document concerns of the child’s health and mental well-being such as coming to school un-bathed, dirty clothing, infections in his gums from lack of proper dental care, John complaining of “bugs” in his bed, and reports of not eating. Throughout the year the aunt has been notified of these situations as they came up, however, little if anything has been done on her part to help John. While academically he has progressed throughout the year, he is still just below grade level in areas such as reading and writing.

What procedures should be followed if during your first year as a school psychologist in an urban school district the above case was presented to you? What are the primary concerns? Are the teachers and other staff members fulfilling all of the duties they are obligated to and should to ensure proper care of the child?
As a future school psychologist do you feel ready to handle the various ethical and legal issues that may arise in various counseling situations?

This blog was created by Jamie Cowan.


Desiree Antas said...

I would probably report this case to DYFS. This type of problem would be beyond my scope to deal with. If he was having difficulty in reading and writing I would devise interventions for that, but as far as his home environment goes, a social worker would be better suited to deal with those problems. However, because I am such an empathic person, I would probably feed the poor kid every morning. The primary concern in this case is child neglect. As a school psychologist it is our duty to report such a case.

Tahina said...

This would be an overwhelming situation if this case was presented to me during my first year as a school psychologist. However, being new to the field does not mean being naïve about not reporting child neglect. My primary concern lies with the child. Obviously he is not being cared for appropriately at home and child protective services need to be notified that the child is in a home with bed bugs, not being fed, not being bathed in addition to not receiving proper dental care. Not only is he in danger of malnutrition but the neglect has affected his learning since no one at home has taken time to work with his educational needs. This is a case that must be reported to child protective agencies. His aunt has been informed of all of these issues and asked to correct them and assist in John’s educational needs and she has failed to do so. The teachers and other staff members have done their part in also have an obligation to protect the child. It is their obligation to make sure John isn’t in any more danger at home.
Like I said, this case would be overwhelming if presented during my first year as a school psychologist. It is best to know what to do in these types of situations before you are presented with them in real life. In order to feel ready you have to be ready. Legal issues are a pretty much cut and dry. You either do the right thing legally or pay the consequences. Lines are blurred when unsure what to do ethically. In a case like John’s you are legally obligated to inform of maltreatment especially since you and other school personnel have the suspicion of neglect. Ethically, your concern would be the same. No one who has chosen to work with children would idly sit by knowing a child is being neglected and not cared for properly.

Tami said...

In this case dealing with Johnny, he is being neglected and maltreated. He is not being bathed, his clothes are dirty, he mentioned the presence of bugs in his bed, and he has gum disease because of a lack of dental hygiene. These are without a doubt signs of neglect, and his aunt who was already previously notified about these issues has done nothing to change them. Johnny has also been drawing violent pictures in his art class, which his teacher has reported. The teachers in the school have done their part, it is the aunt who is not doing her part as his legal guardian; therefore, this case definitely needs to be reported to a protective agency. It is our responsibility as school psychologists, both ethically and legally, to report this case to an agency suited to handle such situations. If we were not to report this case we would be neglecting this child as well, and more neglect is the last thing Johnny needs. As Desiree stated, implementing interventions to improve his reading and writing is a responsibility the school should take on, but what is occurring inside this child's home is out of our realm of expertise.

Jessica S said...

I would report this case to Dyfus. As school personell, we are required to report any suspicions of child abuse or neglect. Clearly, this child is being neglected. Implementing academic interventions is also necessary, but, as others have mentioned, does not address the problem in its entirety. Can we as psychologists give him clean clothes and food, sure. But as everyone else mentioned, the problems in the home need to be addressed.

Jesse S said...

I too would report this problem to DYFS. The child is obviously being neglected. The fact that his gums are diseased, he is not always fed, and has bugs in his bed are all blatant signs of abuse which should not be tolerated. If I was presented with a case such as this during my first year I think that I could take the appropriate steps to help John. There is a clear right and wrong in this situation. As a school psychologist we work as advocates for the children and it is our responsibility to make sure that agencies step in and make sure that John's home life either improves or he is removed from it.