Kindergarten educators and teachers are among the first to notice and recognize signs of violence. For example, primary school teachers have a unique opportunity to consistently monitor a child’s communication with classmates and developmental features that a family doctor or dentist would not have noticed in a short visit.
Educators should be prepared to help students who are experiencing domestic violence or peer bullying.
SIGNIFICANT SIGNS OF VIOLENCE
The signs of violence shown do not mean that the student is actually experiencing violence, but correctly worded questions and the creation of a safe environment to open up can help to confirm or disprove predictions. It is important to formulate questions according to the student’s age and maturity so that he or she is able to answer them.
Pre-school children and primary school pupils do not yet have the necessary vocabulary to talk about violence or understand it, so complex concepts should be avoided and the questions asked should be simple and clear. Open-ended questions which cannot be answered with “yes” or “no” are best suited to gain the child’s confidence. Details are clarified with closed questions. It is better to start to speak without first admitting that something has caused your anxiety. For example, a conversation about food and meals at home are good way to start conversation for understanding if the parents are not caring for the child.
Examples of questions to ask children:
- Looks like you don’t want to go home. Why?
- I noticed a big bruise on your arm. Tell me how did it happen?
- Sometimes adults tell children to do things they don’t want to do. What do you think about that?
- I noticed stains on your underwear. Where do you think they could have come from?
- Tell me what you usually eat for dinner.
- When was the last time you ate?
- What do your parents do when you don’t listen to them?
You can talk to teenagers a little more specifically and ask direct questions. It is likely that they are already able to recognize violence and can name it accurately.
Important! The student may get the impression that his / her personal life is being interfered with, so it is necessary to explain that his / her well-being is very important for his / her education and that teachers’ interest in this is completely normal.
Examples of questions to ask teens:
- Is anyone at home beating, pushing, kicking or otherwise physically injuring you?
- Are you forced to engage in sexual activities at home?
- Is one of your parents at home abusing the other?
- Is there enough food in the house, necessary clothes, hygiene products? What is missing?
- When did it start?
- How often do you encounter this?
- Do you have the opportunity to rest at home or contact an adult when you are experiencing emotional difficulties? What is missing?
- Has there been any attempt to improve the situation at home? What was the result?
All cases of domestic violence against students are individual. Sometimes the most pronounced are physical symptoms, sometimes psychological. When behavioral, appearance, health problems that could be caused by domestic violence are noticed, it is necessary to act immediately and act proactively. It is possible that a child will be more likely to talk about experienced abuse with an educator they trust than a family member, doctor, or other person. All disturbing features of the student’s behavior, marks on the body, other external signs, verbal testimony should be described in detail. Evidence can also be captured on a mobile phone.
If it turns out that a student is experiencing violence, it is necessary to immediately inform the responsible school staff and notify the police by emergency number 112 or the State Child Rights Protection and Adoption Service. If you decide to do so, you should inform the student about the policies and procedures in place at the school that can be expected from other institutions involved in the process.
ADDITIONAL ASSISTANCE IN CASE OF VIOLENCE
Even when information about domestic violence is passed on to other institutions, the role of the school still remains crucial. There are a few things school leaders, social educators, teachers and other staff members can do to make students who experience domestic violence feel safer and have better opportunities to improve.
When a home is not a safe place to cultivate one’s hobbies or even do homework because all efforts are focused on ensuring the safety of oneself and one’s loved ones, the student cannot realize their full potential. The school is not in a position to control who the child pays attention to when they return home, but it can facilitate schooling. Children growing up in a violent environment may not be able to prepare for the assessment in a timely manner and teachers should take this into account and provide additional counselling or more time for the task if necessary. After-school clubs and actvities are a great way to not only provide a formal reason to return home not immediately after school, but also to create a space for self-directed learning. In such a place, students are safe and can do homework, rest without hindrance.
Many young people who experience violence suffer from low self-esteem and learning difficulties, so it is important for teachers to help students find and nurture their strengths. This can be done by offering participation in extracurricular activities and competitions related to a specific field, submitting more articles, research or other material on a topic of interest. The easiest way to express support is with praise for the progress made, which would show the student that his efforts are not fruitless and have not gone unnoticed.
The provision of emotional support is also linked to ensuring access to learning. Support for students is equally needed in the case of domestic violence and bullying at school.
Specialists have long been working to change society’s attitudes towards domestic violence, but it is still associated with shame and students often feel it. They may be ashamed of poorer living conditions, parental behavior, and harmful habits (such as alcoholism) than other students. The student should be able to contact a school psychologist or social worker without fear.
Important!School psychologists or social workers are often less familiar people than teachers with whom young people have a closer relationship. Therefore, teachers should not only refer to other professionals, but also offer to talk, listen and give advice where possible. It is possible that the student will hint at his or her difficulties subtly at first, thus checking the teacher’s reaction and assessing whether he or she can trust him or her. It is important that a teacher who notices such hints shows initiative and concern, and tells them about all the possibilities to seek help, including emotional support lines for young people.