What Can We Do? Child Abuse Prevention in Public Libraries
|In your role as an information professional, have you encountered an instance of suspected child abuse or neglect? (n=91)
Suspected child abuse and neglect is a prevalent and pervasive issue in our communities. During the year 2010, 3.3 million reports of child abuse and neglect were made in the United States involving 5.9 million children. (Department of Health and Human Services, Child Maltreatment Report, 2011). A majority of states, including California, do not list public library staff as mandated reporters. Despite that, library staff are front line workers who interact and engage with children and their families, and are statistically likely to encounter suspected child abuse or neglect.
As an MLIS student at UCLA, part of my final portfolio project was an online survey I created regarding the role of public librarians in child abuse prevention. The survey was created online using Google Docs and was distributed through CALIX and PubYac listservs. There were 92 respondents to the survey, 43 of whom were located in California.
1. In your role as an information professional, have you encountered an instance of suspected child abuse or neglect?
Yes - 54% No - 33% Not Sure - 13%
Additionally, the types of abuse were described in the respondents’ narrative responses. Through observation or personal disclosures, more than half of the staff surveyed became aware of suspected neglect or physical, emotional, verbal or sexual abuse of youth.
2. How prepared are public library staff to respond to situations of SCAN?
10% 1 (Very Unprepared)
15% 5 (Very Prepared)
|On a scale of 1-5, how professionally prepared do you feel to respond to an instance of suspected child abuse or neglect? (n=91).
There seems to be a connection between preparedness and the library’s policy regarding suspected child abuse and neglect. Of the nine respondents that reported being “very unprepared”, eight were from institutions with no policy. This level of unpreparedness can affect action, as one circulation clerk stated, “Because I am unsure of the policy in my library system, I hesitate to report.”
From this data, I would recommend two steps of action that can take place in public libraries.
1. Every library that provides services to minors should have a formal written policy regarding suspected child abuse and neglect.
53% of respondents stated that their library did not have a policy (either formal or informal) regarding suspected child abuse and neglect and only 11% stated that their library had a formal written policy. We know that library staff who have encountered suspected child abuse and neglect are not alone. And although they have no legal obligation to act, they should have access to information that will help them make an informed decision. So regardless whether or not a library chooses to report suspected child and neglect that decision should be made clear to all library staff in writing.
2. Workshops and trainings should be made available to all public library staff.
Every community has social workers and other professionals working against abuse and neglect. Child Protective Services or Departments of Children and Family Services are great starting points for information and potential collaboration. Or consider contacting detectives that specialize in these issues at your local police department.
I hope you can take away from the data and recommendations and discuss this issue with the staff in your library. For more information, please see my original survey, poster, and handouts that were presented at the CLA Conference in November of 2012. All of these are available online:
Original survey: http://goo.gl/0NHPu
Information Services Librarian
USC Norris Medical Library