I use the social network FaceBook to keep in contact with family and friends, but I have not participated in any of its “events.” So, I was not about to start when the trend appeared in early December to change one’s profile picture to a favorite cartoon character in order to protest child abuse and neglect. My job as a counselor is to advocate for children and to protect them from abuse, neglect, and harm of any kind, but this cyber event did not seem very effectual to me. Instead of participating, I posted the contact number of the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) for New Jersey residents to call if they suspected child abuse or neglect in our state. Even though I understand the unexceptional reputation this division of our state government has, I was alarmed at responses my post received.
Friends and friends of friends, people with whom I had never communicated before, shared their perspectives and stories about the workings of DYFS, most of which were painful. As a young school counselor, I have been lucky enough to only have had positive experiences when reporting to DYFS and working with the local police.
Of course, I would love to see processes move more quickly, to easily receive updates from case managers about my students’ well-being, and to see every case manager showing as much care to my students as I would. However, this is a division of the state government working within those limits and within the limits of the legal system. Suspected child abuse and neglect is a naturally painful experience. The people who are supposed to be helping should not be increasing that pain by improperly performing their job’s duties. Yet, people who are properly executing their job responsibilities should be commended for working in a tough setting with inadequate compensation.
I tried to respond to these friends and friends of friends on FaceBook in a diplomatic and understanding way, all the while emphasizing that regardless of how we feel about DYFS, every citizen has a legal responsibility to report any child abuse or neglect that they see. More people know that school counselors and other school professionals can be held liable for failing to report child abuse than those who know that the common citizen who witnesses child abuse in a supermarket can be held liable too. Though it is important for citizens to know what is and what is not child abuse, it is even more important for everyone to know that any suspicion of child abuse and neglect should be reported. It is DYFS’s job and the responsibility of courts to decide if abuse and neglect are taking place and if action should be taken.
FaceBook has been great to keep me connected to family and friends from all over the world and from all different times in life. I was not expecting it to also be a forum that would give me perspective on a very poignant responsibility in my career. I did not change my profile picture to a cartoon character, but I hopefully spread awareness in an even more specific way about how to protect children and how to act civically responsible. Beyond the unconfirmed rumor that this FaceBook event was a scam designed as a smokescreen to help pedophiles access children on the Internet, I had experienced a disconcerted feeling about the event. I wondered how it would actually help abused and neglected children in need of adult advocacy. Surely, publicizing the need to help is a positive move, but I wonder if the cyber event actually inspired anyone to deal with child abuse and neglect in a practical and legally responsible way.
Kristy L. Carlisle is a school counselor and a mental health counselor in training at Rider University. Her interests include protecting children from cyber-bullying and from food addiction.