In a small School of Social Work classroom Tuesday, the school held the first seminar in a yearlong series on the safety of minors on colleges campuses.
Supported by a grant from the Family Assessment Learning Laboratory for Education and Research, the series will consist of eight three-hour discussions on the maltreatment of minors on college campuses.
The series is a response to the child sexual abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky, Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach, and the child-pornography case involving former medical resident Stephen Jenson, along with the institutional failures surrounding these events. Social Work Prof. Kathleen Coulborn Faller said these incidents highlighted flaws in the system of protecting children, prompting administrators and professors to examine how minors are protected on campus.
Experts from different fields, from medicine to risk management, discussed the institutional flaws. Bethany Mohr, medical director of University of Michigan Health System Child Protection Team, said UMHS faculty and residents are not screened for a history of committing child abuse.
This screening, different from a background check, would narrow in on instances that typically do not warrant arrest and where employees abuse their own children. Though the Sandusky case involved sexual abuse, Jenson was not accused of having an inappropriate contact with children.
Mohr added that there are issues with establishing policies on the provider-patient relationship, which must comprehensively cover all possible instances of abuse. She said such policies should be better known.
“Close to zero parents know what to do,” Mohr said about cases where parents must grapple with alleged abuse incidents. “They just don’t have any resources.”
The complexity of minors interacting with University officials even extends to the Law School. Frank Vandervort, supervising attorney at the University Juvenile Justice Clinic, said his students represent minors in criminal courts.
However, the Law School doesn’t have policies on how to appropriately treat children. Vandervort recently asked his colleagues where he could find such policies.
“Most of the people looked at me with a very strange face like I was from outer space,” he said.
Lawyers and clergy members are not required to report witnessed sexual abuse even in states where all adults are required to, a precedent that angered Vandervort.
“It seems to me in that circumstance the response is so obvious is that we shouldn’t have a national debate or conversation about these sort of things,” he said.
Faller said she hoped the seminar translates to better policy at the University. Her fellow speakers said other colleges’ policies lack comprehensiveness, though some campuses are more advanced.
“We’re hoping that out of this will come more coherent understanding, but also a better policy and better ideas of policy when kids are on campus,” she said.
Some graduate students may attend the seminars for credit. Social Work graduate student Christian Moore was one such student in a crowd of professors — he hopes to work in University outreach.
“I wish that more students were aware of the course,” he said. “It promotes a greater dialogue about safety.”