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UCEDD collaborates on reporting child abuse

The University Center for Excellence on Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), an advocacy group hosted by the American Samoa Community College, presented a training in late January which focused on improving the protocol and reporting process among local agencies in cases of child abuse.


The training gathered together representatives from the Office of Protection and Advocacy (OPAD), Child Protective Services (CPS), the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and local elementary and high school counselors to share perspectives and work together to formulate effective approaches to responding to reported cases of child abuse.


 “There have often been misunderstandings over how to proceed when a case of child abuse is reported,” explained UCEDD Community Trainer Paulia Pa’o-Pelenato. “Sometimes school counselors or principles are not aware that they need to immediately notify both the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the police as well as Child Protective Services.”


 “There is sometimes confusion within the school administration itself, and in one incident a school official mistakenly reported a case to a non-profit organization instead. An individual from that organization then interviewed the victim and gathered information without involving either the CID or CPS until the next day, which caused legal complications. By bringing representatives from the social agencies together with counselors from the schools, we were able to address many of these problems, and share ideas on how the interaction between all the stakeholders involved might work better in the future.” 


As advocates for children with developmental disabilities (DD), the UCEDD takes great concern in the reporting of such cases because children with DD are themselves especially vulnerable. “UCEDD works together with local agencies to ensure that victims with DD receive the correct services, that their rights are protected and that any accommodations required during the interview and trial proceedings are being provided,” she explained. Should a case of abuse involve a child with DD, it should not only be reported to the CID and CPS, but also the Office of Protection and Advocacy (OPAD).


Reporting cases of child abuse can become especially complicated because of not only the potentially psychologically damaging effects the investigation could have on the victim, but also the denial and avoidance bringing such a case to light can trigger in the adults involved.


Because of the sensitive nature of such cases, Pa’o-Pelenato stressed that the public, and especially those who work with children, should be aware of the right process for reporting alleged child abuse. “The government agencies who respond to these cases, the CID and CPS, should be notified immediately and will work together for the victim,” she said, emphasizing that everyone else should especially leave the questioning of the victim to these agencies.


“Every time the victim is questioned, there is a chance the victim is re-living the entire drama,” she explained, “and this may be too much for the victim to bear.”


Given the often complicated nature of reporting child abuse cases, Pa’o-Pelenato expressed satisfaction that the UCEDD training brought together members of the various agencies that advocate for the victims. “There was a need for this training to help DOE counselors better understand how to refer all reported or referred child abuse cases, or even suspected child abuse cases to the correct agencies,” she said.


“This is the first time that all key stakeholders made an initiative to revisit their protocol and enhance their services through collaborative networking. This will help the agencies work together to investigate the crime, protect the victim, and put the perpetrator behind bars.”


Pa’o-Pelenato said a follow-up training involving the same stakeholders will take place in March to monitor and review how successfully the accomplishments from the first training have been integrated into the existing system of the various social agencies, and what further recommendations might be made.


Pa’o-Pelenato emphasized that while social agencies exist to protect victims and advocate for their rights, the public also needs to take a stand against the victimization of society’s most vulnerable.


“Abuse in all its forms to children with or without DD is not acceptable and must be reported even if it is  only suspected,” she said. “It is important that our children feel safe, loved, and supported in our homes and our communities. Child abuse is an epidemic on the rise and we should not protect the perpetrators, even if they are a family member and despite their social class. Children with DD sometimes have a hard time voicing the abuse they are experiencing, and therefore we must be the voice for them.”