An Abuse That Almost Wasn’t

It was with deep sadness and shock when many of us in the early childhood industry viewed on a video about a week ago, one of our own, dragging a 3 year-old child across a room and forcefully pushing him down on the floor.  We also saw that subsequently, the child, appeared unable to stand and required the assistance of that teacher and another, to “walk”.  News reports indicated that the teacher’s mishandling of the child “allegedly” resulted in a hairline fracture on the child’s shin.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnyYlJ8n4HM

There were also news reports that the management initially informed the parents that their son had suffered a fall.  It was only when the parents insisted on viewing the CCTV that the truth surfaced and the parents were subjected to the unsparing reality that their son had actually been abused. 

Investigations are sill ongoing.  The teacher, who was first suspended following the parents’ lodging of a report with the police against her, has since had her employment with the childcare centre, terminated.

This case has been quite the conversation around dinning tables and many have spoken out against the actions of the teacher.  There have been many from the public who have written within the social media to register their anger and indignation with regard to the abuse, and to a some extent, against the teachers’ inaction, and at what some perceived as the management’s attempt to conceal the abuse from the parents.  A few have even started a Facebook page to begin a petition for the center to be closed down and the employment of the entire staff to be terminated for “looking the other way” when the abuse occurred. (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Petition-to-Close-My-First-Skool-at-Toa-Payoh-Singapore/579258348784392). 

Reportedly, a few more parents have also lodged police reports against the centre because they have seen bruises and scratches on their children in the past and in the light of this case, now wants police to investigate to determine if their children were also subjected to abuse.  Some other parents are calling for the resignation of the principal. 

 

Knee-jerk responses? Out of proportion hysteria?  Maybe so and in response to these, Rachel Zeng on her blog has spoken out for teachers in the earlychildhood industry by addressing these condemnations and asked that we look at the teacher’s action against the backdrop of information and an understanding of the daily experiences that a teacher working with young children, has to go through.  Rachel also called on the public to not look at the actions of one early childhood educator and generalise all early childhood educators as the same.  Condemnation of the teacher in question without taking any factor into consideration and at teachers as a whole in the early childhood industry might have detrimental implications for all stakeholders, either directly linked to the centre or within the early childhood field (http://rachelzeng.wordpress.com/2013/07/09/when-educators-gets-pushed-over-the-edge-we-need-to-reflect-as-a-sector-on-contributing-factors-and-not-just-focus-on-condemning-the-mistakes-or-ill-conduct/).

Being an early childhood educator too, I do agree with Rachel.  We, in the early childhood field know what it is like to feel stretched physically, emotionally, and psychologically. 

We are aware that we are privileged because we have been entrusted by parents to care, protect, cherish, love, nurture, and provide the most viable environment so that their little ones who are at the optimal periods of maturation across all domains, can develop in the most holistic manner.  How awesome is that?  And yet, what tremendous responsibility and not just for one or a couple of children daily but for any number of children ranging from 8 to 25 children, day in and day out (depending on age of children, 18 months to 6 years old).  

On the other spectrum however, we also have had people from the public who while concurring that the teacher should not have acted the way she did towards the child, nonetheless, have made some outrageous statements about the case, which are in my opinion, ignorant, fallacious, and dangerous.  I have responded to some of these because as I have mentioned, I am of the belief that these views can be dangerous as they are centred on the abuse of children and left to exist and advanced through discussions, these perceptions can be very detrimental to the image of children.  These views can influence the mindsets of a society of people who have essentially already been indoctrinated about the “values” of obedience, punishments, and rewards through our systems of education, upbringing, and governance.  Much research strongly demonstrate that punishments and rewards are both detrimental to children’s development.  Punishment and rewards are both judgments on and of children and affect their development of self-esteem, self-worth, and self-concept and these effects continue on to adulthood.  So, here I would like to speak for the children.

In Singapore, our government may have signed The Convention on The Rights of the Child almost 2 decades ago (1995).   However, I will venture an opinion that most people in this country are not aware that this legally binding document even exists.  Through my experiences as an early childhood educator/lecturer, these people include, educators. 

The Convention on the Rights of the Child not only ensures that children’s welfare are protected but that their freedom to play, leisure, speak, learn, discover, to make choices, and so forth, are guaranteed.  The Convention also assures that children are free from, not only physical but also any form of abuse (http://www.unicef.org/crc/).   Yet, from the way quite a number ofpeople speak, both online and offline, the line that divides discipline and punishment/abuse seems to have become very indistinct.   

Many in the childhood field have been strongly calling for a clear distinction to be made between punishment and discipline, that being, punishment conveys “harsh treatment” and discipline implies “to teach”.

Remember that the root word of discipline is”disciple.” A disciple is a follower, but the best way to get children to follow us is not by punishing them. The best way is by caring about them, meeting their needs and by earning their respect, not demanding it” (http://eqi.org/disc.htm).

This is not the first time that the abuse of children (very often undetected) has occurred in centres around Singapore, nor do I believe that it will be the last (detected and undetected).

The parents were initially informed that their son had fallen.  If not for the CCTV, if the parents had not been as vigilant as they were and demanded to see their son supposedly falling, and as someone noted, if the child had not suffered any injury, nothing of this abuse would have surfaced and received any attention.  And isn’t that a shame? That the abuse of our children, whether physical, psychological, or emotional,can occur in the premises of a childcare centre and it would have been most likely swept under the carpet, concealed, or not investigated.  That the very people who have supposedly taken on a profession of caring and educating the minds of our future generations would look away when a child in their midst is abused, suppress information from parents and public, or be so negligent that they would not bother to investigate.

If you watch the YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnyYlJ8n4HM), at !:25, you will see the Chief Executive Officer of this state-governed, chain of childcare centres, in one of which, this incident occurred, speaking.  He said that it was never their intention to conceal evidence of the abuse.  The management too was unaware of the abuse until the next day, when the parents demanded to see the video from the CCTV that the abuse came to light. 

And I was astounded.  A child in the centre suffers a hairline fracture while on their watch and the management never bothered to look at the video to verify the claim that the child had fallen was accurate and truthful?  Even if they believed it was an accident, did the management not conduct interviews with the teachers to investigate the events leading up to the fall? 

We are talking about children here.  Children who are unable to fully recount events that have occurred to them even within the same day.  As such, it is paramount that the management ensures, on behalf of the children and their parents, that when an “accident” or anything out of the ordinary occurs within the centre, due process has to occur to ensure that there will be less probability that it will occur again.

The following are some edited extracts of my responses to some of the discussions that I have found rather troubling.

One person promoted the view that the blame should be placed on the shoulders of the parents for bringing up such an “ill mannered” 3 year-old.   This individual further advocated that the parents be shamed!  The method of shaming was not suggested.   He/she went on to discuss about how that child was being a distraction to a class of well-mannered 3 year-olds as if to imply that being a “3 year-old distraction” is so outrageous that the boy somewhat got what he deserved.  From the video, all I saw was a 3 year-old innocently skipping towards his classmates who were seated on the floor, before his teacher dragged him away.

3 year-old children should not be expected to be”well-behaved.”  There is something wrong with our education system, our teachers, that centre, and the way that the class was being run, if we have a class of well-behaved 3 year olds. 

And education should not be about compliance or obedience.  Have we not heard about the difference between morality and obedience?  “Morality is doing what is right regardless of what you are told and obedience is doing what you are told regardless of what is right”.  Look at where we are now as a society.  We are a nation of people indoctrinated and governed from childhood to be obedient.  As adults, we continue to allow ourselves to be governed the same way, regardless of what is right.   Many of us would rarely question information furnished to us by authority and many of us would also rarely question an action that is evidently morally wrong because it is by authority.  

Also, there is something truly amiss when someone’s child has been abused and a member of the public turns the table around to place the blame at the door of the child and his parents and 27 people agreed with those sentiments before the post was pulled off the page by the administrators!  Nothing that this 3 year-old or any child for that matter, could have done to warrant the treatment that this boy received at the hands of his teacher.

One train of discussions strangely centred on how the child’s injured leg was “bandaged”.  The discussions suggested that the parents may have presented their son’s injury to the shin to look worse that it actually was as attempts to, elicit public sympathy and for the purpose of claiming medical insurance.

Most of the participants suggesting and agreeing to these theories, if not all, would have viewed the video of the teacher dragging the child across the room and shoving him down on the floor, hard.  The child sustained a hairline fracture as a result of the teacher’s actions toward the child.

The child’s trust and relationship with adults, their teachers, and the wider society would now most likely be more disconnected.  A child, who mistrusts his environment and feels disconnected to the people around him, will feel more insecure and vulnerable.  The child, at aged 3, would also now be going through the process of developing autonomy versus shame and doubt (ErikErikson, Stages of Psychosocial Development) and discovering if “Is it okay to be me?” 

This young child, through the actions of this teacher and the inaction of the teachers and the management of that centre, has been harshly presented with one huge reason why it is not okay to be himself.  “Autonomy” took a real beating and “Shame and Doubt” emerged the champions on that day as that little boy steered further away from developing autonomy and closer to developing shame and doubt.  Experiences such as these are going to contribute to the processes of this child’s development of self-esteem, self-awareness, self-recognition, and self-definition and hence, development, as a person.

The above, are just some of the damages inflicted on that the child.  How the bandage was presented to the media does not change any of the facts of the abuse or lessen any of the trauma to the child as an individual or the children as a class collectively because they were witnesses to the abuse and that would have affected their trust, security and perception of adults, their teachers, and their wider environment.

Some suggested that the teacher might have felt frustrated on that day and most likely, she was.  However, no one, even when frustrated, should mishandle any child.  Our emotions are our responsibility.  Children are not here on earth to make us happy and cheerful. That too, is our responsibility and ours alone.  

Can you imagine if someone frustrates us and we “mishandle” that person resulting in a hairline fracture of the person we “mishandled”?  It would be considered a crime and we could be charged in court.

However, there’s a difference between the”mishandled” adult and the “mishandled” child. The adult can fight back, go to the police, or sue the aggressor.  He can take necessary actions to right the awrong and to ensure that justice is served.

A child on the other hand, does not have the means to do any of that.  A child is dependent on adults to speak up for him, to fight for him, to ensure that he is safe.  The teachers in that centre did not do that for him.

While we acknowledge that working with children is hard work, can often drive us up, down, and around the walls, can be a thankless job, and more, “taking it out” on any child just cannot be.  

Those who have attempted to place blame on the child or the parents, insinuated that the parents are “faking” or “exaggerating” the son’s injury in order to benefit financially or to gain emotional support, advocated notions like, “Children need to be disciplined”, “It is better we do not spare the rod and spoil the child”, etc., in reference to the abuse, distract us from the real issues and some of these issues include:

  • An abuse of a young child has occurred at the hands of a teacher.
  • Abuse of children in preschool environments do occur and do go undetected.  This abuse almost went undetected.
  • Abuse and punishment ofchildren negatively impact their development and how we respond to children can either set them on a negative or positive course in life.
  • Do centres have the right and necessary protocols in placed to ensure that all incidents that occur within a centre are investigated, documented, and reported?
  • Stakeholders in the childcare/preschool industry, including those in the relevant ministries, who can, must look at how to provide more and better support to teachers and to lessen the stress of teachers.  Bringing down the ratio would be an excellent start.  One of the processes I advocate to and with teachers is, when one is really stressed with a child, walk away.  Rather than harshly responding to the child and in the process, negatively impacting the development of that child, ask another teacher to take over and walk away to take a short breather. 

The mother of the child shared in a news report that two teachers from the centre have been corresponding with her through Facebook and telling her that she should not blow this issue out of proportion and I think, the audacity of these people!  http://news.asiaone.com/News/Latest%2BNews/Singapore/Story/A1Story20130708-435548/2.html

While we do not want to paint all teachers with the same tainted brush, we do not want to down play the seriousness and consequences of abuse.  We should not turn away from the lessons that we can take from this situation. And to blame a child who has been abused, to blame the parents or to suggest that they are making too much of an issue of the abuse of their child, or to advocate that children should be punished in order that they learn or be better behaved, make us complicit to the abuse, to the inaction of the teachers, and the negligence of the management.  We also endanger the true image of children.  Children are one of our most vulnerable.  They need our protection.  They need us to speak out for them and not against them.

 

I Am A Human Being Too

https://www.facebook.com/notes/i-am-a-human-being-too/an-abuse-that-almost-wasnt/557801600932716

ImagePoint to note: Most centres require that parents pay yearly for an insurance policy.  In the event that a child suffers an accident while at the centre, the medical bills are covered by the insurance.

 

 

 
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2 thoughts on “An Abuse That Almost Wasn’t

  1. Hi. Just want to add that the cast with bandage is standard treatment even for hairline fracture, not because the parents are trying to get sympathy from the public by making the injury look bad.

    • Thank you. I never once thought that the parents bandaged their son’s leg to elicit sympathy. It is an outrageous accusation. I feel sorry for the parents. Their little son was abused and now, they have to face unwarranted accusations.

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