Teachers to be taught to spot domestic violence

Aug 15, 2007 06:45 PM

Education Reporter

There's not always a bruise to tell the secret.

But a child who is starting to witness violence in his home - or to be a victim himself - may seem a little more sleepy in class, a little more hungry, a little more jumpy and up for a fight, says MPP Sandra Pupatello.

And if someone can read those subtle warning signs, they may be able to intervene before the violence gets worse, says Pupatello, Ontario's minister responsible for women's issues.

Because teachers have a front-row seat for a child's behaviour from day to day, Queen's Park will train up to 6,000 elementary teachers this fall to spot the subtle symptoms of domestic violence that can appear during the school day,

The new $1.1 million training program announced today will provide workshops for teachers on how to recognize - and help - children being affected by abusive behavior even before it turns to outright violence.

"Kids spend a large part of their days at school, so educators are in a unique position to read any sudden change in behaviour; to notice a child who is suddenly disruptive or who has an unusual outburst that could point to circumstances happening in the home," said Pupatello in an interview today.

A similar program recently trained emergency room doctors, nurses and paramedics to spot the signs of domestic violence that may not always be obvious.

While teachers are legally obligated to report any suspected case of child abuse to authorities, Pupatello said they often are not trained in how to ask children questions about their safety in an age-appropriate way, using the right language to draw out the truth without upsetting the child.

"We're bringing together expert advice for teachers on how to take that first entry point, to ask the right questions the right way and to know when the answers don't seem quite right."

Pupatello noted it is also critical to break the cycle of abuse, because children who are victims are far more likely than others to grow up to become abusive themselves.

Teachers will be able to learn more through the website www.curriculum.org/womanabuse.

The training program is being welcomed by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, which represents 70,000 grade school teachers across the province.

At its annual meeting in Toronto today, the federation elected York Region Teacher David Clegg as its new president. The former junior high school teacher says he will push Queen's Park to shrink the gap in funding that exists between grade school students and their high school counterparts.

Clegg, who succeeds Emily Noble as president, says the province gives school boards $711 less for each elementary student than it provides for each high school student, a shortfall he says makes it hard to help serve elementary children's needs.

But he notes the McGuinty government has narrowed that gap from more than $1,300 in 2003.

Earlier this week, Clegg called on teachers at the annual conference in Toronto to help Liberal Education Minister Kathleen Wynne hold onto her fragile seat of Don Valley West against Conservative Leader John Tory.