Our Known Secret

By: Dina Rabhan, Associate Executive Director

I write a lot and share many articles about school leadership. It’s my job and my passion to make sure our Jewish day school leaders are supported, enriched, networked, pushed to grow, and well cared for.  But I am also driven by my passion for children and I want to discuss a known secret we share.  I call it a “secret” because people discuss it in hushed tones if it is discussed at all. But it is not much of a secret anymore that child abuse exists in our community. We all know about it, have read about it, and felt saddened by it, but what isn’t widely known is that schools play a powerful role in ensuring the safety of their students.  In fact, schools are considered to be on the front lines for protecting children- both in their school buildings, but more importantly, protecting children who are suffering from abuse outside of school. I am proud and heartened to see schools paying closer attention to the physical safety of children on their premises.

The many frightening things happening in our volatile world have prompted schools to respond swiftly and they have been reviewing safety protocols, fire drills, lock down drills, hiring security firms, armed guards, and installing cameras. In many ways, taking care of the physical safety of the school property is easy. While it introduced new line items on budgets (and I know that is never easy), no one is uncomfortable discussing it. It is obvious and everyone agrees and understands its importance. But somehow, when it comes to discussing child abuse, we as a community become more squeamish and have not been as proactive in our efforts.  That’s a natural response, but we can do better. In research that we shared in Keeping Our Children Safe: A Systems Approach for Jewish Day Schools, we learned that schools know abuse exists but do not fully understand what their role is in addressing it.

Here are two tips that can be implemented easily at the start of the new school year to ensure the safety of our students:

1. Start with articulated policies and procedures about abuse and make sure that they are shared and understood by every faculty and staff member in your school. Don’t make assumptions that everyone knows who to speak with should they have a concern about a child.

2. Allocate staff development time to teaching your faculty and staff about the signs and symptoms of abuse and their unique role in being able to identify abuse. Normalize the topic by addressing it openly, comfortably, and making sure the staff has a shared language around this issue.

Let’s bring our known secret to light by doing more this year to ensure the overall safety of our students.

To learn more or get support in implementation, contact our office: schoolpartnership@yu.edu.