Contra Costa Times Article: Should Contra Costa school volunteers be trained to report child abuse?

The Contra Costa Times has published this article about the Contra Costa Grand Jury Report: Training School District Employees In Reporting Child Abuse.    The full article follows.

Should Contra Costa school volunteers be trained to report child abuse?

By Matthias Gafni Contra Costa Times

Contra Costa school employees and possibly even volunteers who deal with students should be trained annually to report child abuse, according to recommendations by the Contra Costa Civil Grand Jury.

The recently released report -- which cited investigations by this newspaper that have led to $20 million in settlements in Moraga, Brentwood and Antioch school districts, terminations, a federal report and state legislation -- said districts have "scrambled" the past two years to implement training in light of media scrutiny.

Claims and lawsuits are still pending in the Moraga and Mt. Diablo school districts with plaintiffs accusing school employees of failing to properly report child abuse, as required by law.

"Most districts have failed for years to adequately train their employees about their legal obligations to recognize and report suspected, or known, instances of child abuse," the report stated. "Some districts have now made a good, but belated, start to put in place training programs."

Grand jurors surveyed all 18 Contra Costa school districts, the county Office of Education and the Contra Costa Community College District as well as interviewed school district personnel in charge of such training.

The jurors found training "cursory, haphazard and sporadic," and sometimes nonexistent.

The Contra Costa Community College District has no training program despite more than 1,500 minors enrolled in the district and many more in its summer programs and child care centers, according to the report.

The Pittsburg school district had no formal training until this school year when its human resources department created one.

Training for all employees was only adopted by many other districts, according to the report, in the past two years, including Liberty Union, Oakley and Mt. Diablo.

A report by this newspaper last year found that fewer than half of 94 Bay Area school districts surveyed trained employees on the identification and reporting of child abuse and neglect. Training standards also varied by district.

The story led to Assembly Bill 1432, which would require annual training for school employees statewide. Currently, districts are "strongly encouraged" to train employees.

Since a flurry of media reports on the issue, the county's schools have instituted new policies.

"Evidence uncovered by the Grand Jury, as well as other investigations, have revealed that school districts within the county have 'scrambled' in the last two years to create training programs where none previously existed and to correct inadequacies in the programs that were used to train school personnel in abuse reporting," the report stated. "Nevertheless, many programs still have deficiencies, and there is a (lack of) uniformity in programs throughout the county."

The report also calls for more uniform training, rather than the "hodgepodge" in the county where some require online training while others have live presenters, the report said.

The Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa has seen a spike in training sessions with districts and provides the 60- to 90-minute course for free.

The report also stresses the need for a verification system to ensure that workers complete training.

Even volunteers who work with kids at schools, although not "mandated reporters" by law, should receive "serious consideration" by districts to get training, jurors wrote.

"If an effective and comprehensive training program prevents only one child from being abused, one family from having to endure the hardships of an abused child, one district from having to pay millions of dollars to settle a child abuse lawsuit, then there is no reason for any district to resist implementing the training," the report stated.

Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.

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