x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Child abuse: the dangers in reporting suspicions

Girl's burns alarmed her teachers - but then lawyers got involved.

ABU DHABI // When a young girl came to International Montessori Nursery one day with burns on her feet and a dislocated shoulder, staff were alarmed.

She would not explain what happened, so the nursery director Barbara Knaap asked her mother.

"She said the child was camping in the desert, the father drank too much, picked her up to swing her around and dislocated her shoulder - then she ran over the hot embers of the fire," Ms Knaap recalled.

The case, which happened several years ago, was "probably an accident", Ms Knaap said. But when she tried to discuss it with the family, it spiralled out of control.

"We were accused of child neglect, pretty much," she said. "The dad got defensive, telling me I didn't know what I was talking about and who did I think I was. And then I got a letter from a lawyer … and then I had to get a lawyer."

School and nursery staff who raise concerns about possible ill treatment of a child have little protection. Many do not report potential cases of abuse or neglect because they fear damage to their reputation, losing their job, or worse.

"I have opened my mouth before, and I got in trouble for it," said one schoolteacher in Abu Dhabi.

A boy told her his mother was physically abusing him. "I told my supervisor and basically was told, we can't talk about it."

The experience made her feel "so helpless", she said. "When you see a kid come to school with bruises, or when they tell you what's going on at home and you go and tell your superiors, they say, 'There's nothing we can do. It's normal.' That kills me."

During a child protection training workshop at International Montessori Nursery this month, staff discussed an incident when a lack of guidelines prevented them from taking the matter further with authorities.

A family driver who picked up a boy from the nursery used to beat the child with a stick to get him in his seat. Another parent notified the nursery, which notified the boy's family.

"The driver was sacked and sent back to wherever it was he came from," Ms Knaap said. "Is that the right course of action?"

She said she wished the case could have been reported to a local authority.

"I feel for you," the workshop instructor Karen Sutherland told nursery staff, "because you don't have all the procedures in place that give you a sense of safety and security. But there's also a moral obligation … you're stuck."

 

vnereim@thenational.ae