Child sexual abuse reporting behaviour by school counsellors and their need for further education
Objective To examine a statewide sample of school counsellors' reporting behaviour of suspected cases of child sexual abuse, and their need for further education in this area. Design A questionnaire using four hypothetical vignettes on child sexual abuse requested information on the degree of suspicion, reporting behaviour and familiarity with the reporting procedures for child sexual abuse in state schools in particular, and the state in general. Setting Although school counsellors in Queensland, Australia have been delegated with responsibilities regarding child sexual abuse, little is known about whether or not they have the appropriate reporting behaviours to fulfil these roles, and their training needs. Metliod Some 283 questionnaires were mailed to all school counsellors employed by the Department of Education across Queensland. The final sample of 122 counsellors consisted of 52 males (43 per cent) and 70 females (57 per cent); a ratio comparable to the membership of the state Counselling Association. Results There was a tendency for school counsellors to under-report their suspicions of child sexual abuse. School counsellors were more likely to suspect abuse than report cases to the appropriate authorities. A considerable proportion of school counsellors in Queensland also believe they have little knowledge of the symptoms that identify cases of child sexual abuse, lack counselling skills and procedures to work with sexually abused children, and do not have the necessary training and knowledge to act as resource persons. All school counsellors expressed interest in attending in-service education programmes addressing knowledge, detection, intervention, prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse and other forms of child abuse. Conclusion School counsellors are in a unique position to aid in the battle against child sexual abuse. However, the results of the present study suggest that they lack confidence in their ability to identify and work with children who have been sexually abused. Consequently, the develop ment and implementation of training programmes to increase school counsellors'skills and knowledge of child sexual abuse seem to be crucial in fighting this crime against children. Because of the significant deficits found here in counsellors' professional responses to child sexual abuse, it seems necessary, then, for future research to address the type, nature and duration of support school counsellors need in this area, including emotional factors, which may well intervene in the process. Research could also address the range of policies that could identify quality of relationships and inter-professional partnerships with other helping professionals and government organisations such as the Department of Families, Department of Health, Children's Commission, police, social workers, private counsellors, and, of course, school teachers, in order to promote whole school approaches to enhancing the welfare of all children.
Health Education Journal
Copyright 2005 Sage Publications. Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. First published in Health Education Journal. This journal is available online: http://hej.sagepub.com/content/vol64/issue4/