ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - Teachers and school personnel in St. Johns and Flagler counties, where some students reported sexual abuse this week, go through training at least once a year to make sure they know what the signs are.
School district officials hand out a PowerPoint presentation to school personnel to keep teachers on alert and students protected.
"Anytime you hear any information about a student being neglected or abused, a child, you know, it's heart breaking, it's traumatic, the child is in trauma," said Katrina Townsend, Flagler County director of student services. "And so it can be difficult because we do have relationships with those students."
Townsend said it may be difficult for teachers, but they are prepared.
"First of all, all staff annually go through an online training that is provided by the Department of Children and Families, and it assists them in looking for signs of abuse and understand what to do when they see signs of abuse," Townsend said.
Denise Faulk, who's over the guidance department at St. Johns County schools, said there is no checklist and every child is different, but one of the biggest warning signs of abuse is a change in a student's behavior.
"A student who might typically be quiet that becomes a little bit more aggressive, showing outbursts, acting-out kinds of behavior," Faulk said.
That's just one example. Another warning sign, Faulk said, is students using different vocabulary and asking very pointed questions.
"'Is it normal for someone to be hit, or is it normal for someone to be touched in this way?'" Faulk said.
The signs could even be physical, she said. That's why the St. Johns County School District trains everyone from custodians, nurses and administrators, not just teachers and guidance counselors.
School personnel only has to have a suspicion of abuse, then the school supports them in calling the child abuse hotline.
Once a report is made, it's up to DCF to investigate. DCF then reaches out to the child immediately.
DCF investigators in this week's case say they were able to interview the students one day after the staff at their school made the report. Sometimes it's at the school, but in this case, detectives did not say.
If you suspect a child you know is being abused, call the DCF child abuse hotline at 800-962-2873.
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