This week, for the first time in my career, I had to file a report to the Department of Children and Families. Teachers are required by law to report any suspected abuse and it’s a felony if you don’t. Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier.
One day this week, one of my friends seemed a little down. When I asked him about it, he teared up a little and wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. I asked him all the things I could think of: Do you feel sick? Did someone hurt your feelings? Did you get in trouble on the bus? Finally, I asked if he just wanted to keep it to himself, and he nodded the affirmative. I told him to make sure to come and talk to me if he changed his mind.
The following day, he still seemed out of sorts and at one point he just started crying. I pulled him aside and told him that the previous day I had been worried, but now I was very, very worried. I gave him a piece of drawing paper and asked him to draw about why he was so unhappy. It didn’t take him long to draw seven figures, all with huge upside-down smiles.
“Are you in this picture?” I asked. He pointed to the largest figure. “That’s a pretty sad face,” I observed. “Why are you so sad?”
“I broke an expensive toy,” he began. “My mom held me while my dad whooped me with a tree branch.”
I took a deep breath. “Who are all these other people?” I asked. He pointed out a grandpa, two grandmas, an uncle, and three siblings. “Did anyone say anything to dad when this happened?” I wondered. He shook his head, no.
“Do you have any ‘owies’ from when dad whooped you?” I asked him. He pointed to his chest.
I took him to the school nurse who took a peek and didn’t see anything. She spoke privately with me. It seems that this type of punishment is not uncommon with our Haitian families. For them it’s culturally acceptable.
For me, it is not culturally acceptable. I went to the DCF website and followed the instructions, filling out the questionnaire, inputting the necessary information. The following day, my friend was called to the office. “He’s not going home,” the secretary said.
With Enthusiastic Intern in her third week of doing 100% of the instruction, I was able to walk my friend to the office myself. Inside, I saw the social worker and a huge sheriff’s deputy. I had to leave my poor friend and go back. He returned about twenty minutes later. I did not ask him about what happened.
That same day I had a previously scheduled parent conference with my friend’s parent and to be very honest, I was a little nervous about it. Even though I’m supposed to be anonymous, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out who made the report. A very pregnant mom and mom’s female friend showed up for the meeting. Mom was in good spirits and no mention of the report was made. I guess the investigators hadn’t questioned them yet. Maybe they won’t at all. What do I know?
I have online access to the report and to the updated status of the case. The determination status is currently listed as “screen in.” I have no idea what that means.
But believe me, I’m keeping an eye on my friend. I will absolutely make more reports if necessary. I hope it won’t be. He’s a good kid and he deserves better. They all do.