Playground Prattle: When Schools Respond to Child Abuse Red Flags

Playground Prattle: When Schools Respond to Child Abuse Red FlagsReporting Child Abuse Red Flags

New Jersey schools play an instrumental role in looking out for the physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing of New Jersey children. Part of that role involves reporting suspected cases of child abuse or neglect. Due to increased pressure from the public for full accountability, school personnel increasingly have to make judgment calls on their suspicions of child abuse and neglect. Under New Jersey statute, all persons who have reasonable cause to believe a child may have been abused or neglected must immediately notify New Jersey’s CPS agency, the DCPP (formerly the DYFS). Moreover, they must notify school administration and may be implicated in the investigation as well. Thus, it’s not surprising to know that sometimes school personnel may make poor judgment calls. They have a lot at stake. Not only can they face criminal prosecution for failing to report abuse, their career could be on the line.


Deciphering Fact from Fiction

Aside from observations of a child’s physical appearance, academic performance, social skills, and behavior, school personnel might also report abuse due to a concerning statement the child said. Indeed, it is not uncommon for a child to make a comment like “My mom didn’t make me dinner last night.” when, in reality, the mother ordered take out. Similarly, a child may say, “My daddy hurt me.” when the child could have been referring to an accidental injury.

Taking Children Seriously

Unfortunately, children are still learning communication skills and cultural practices while in school. They are learning what is and what is not appropriate to say. During this phase, children sometimes repeat what they’ve heard from trusted adults, which may or may not be an immediate caregiver. For example, a child may repeat what a friend’s father had said during a sleepover. Children are natural experimenters. They may say things to see how others react to learn whether it is appropriate. They may also say things that are exaggerated or untrue for any number of reasons.

This puts school personnel in a difficult situation. They can’t ignore when children make inappropriate statements. But they also know a statement might not be true. But some can recognize serious “red flags” such as a child talking about sex in a manner inappropriate for his or her age or always complaining about not getting enough to eat at home. The problem is, there is no way you can control how school personnel interprets what your child says and no way to stop a DCPP investigation once they make a report.

One thing you can do, however, is to talk with your child about what he or she should not talk about at school. Explain how their teachers or other adults at school may not understand what they say. As a result, you could get in trouble if the teacher misunderstood what he or she said. Likewise, tell your child he or she doesn’t have to talk to any adults from DCPP without you present.

Also, contact a New Jersey DCPP defense attorney immediately if you have reason to believe your child’s school made a report regarding your child to DCPP. The sooner you involve an attorney, the better. In these cases, an attorney can talk with your child’s school and the DCPP and provide case investigators with information about why your child might have made the statement(s) and what a reasonable solution would be.

Do you need assistance protecting your rights as a parent? If so, Williams Law Group, LLC can help. Our skilled child abuse defense attorneys can help you defend your rights and those of your child while involved with DCPP. Located in Short Hills, New Jersey, Williams Law Group, LLC provides compassionate and dedicated legal services to Union, Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Monmouth, and Middlesex counties, and the surrounding areas. Our knowledgeable attorneys handle divorce and family law, child custody, and child abuse/neglect cases. Call our office at (908) 810-1083, email us at, or contact us through our confidential online form to schedule a consultation and ultimately get you connected with an experienced New Jersey divorce and child custody attorney.

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