I am proud that the campaign 'Raise your hand against smacking' organised by the Council of Europe was launched in Croatia. I am also proud that Croatia introduced a ban on corporal punishment of children in its legislation in 1999. It ranked Croatia among the most progressive European countries. I believe that the development of a society may be assessed by how its systems protect children.
In recent days the whole country was strongly impressed by the reports about violent behavior of students towards the teacher and violent response of that teacher towards students. It seems that the public is polarized in the “us and them” way and that the story of one incident in Cakovec school has taken considerably larger proportions. There are public discussions about the rights of the children and the teachers, about the needs, rules, support or lack of support, and it is not good that some teachers even labelled children as bullies, which creates lynching atmosphere against these children and their parents. Any hate speech in public space is not acceptable.
Inappropriate actions can not be characterized as appropriate
As a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist with more than three decades of experience in working and cooperating with various institutions, I can understand that teachers can be overwhelmed with discomfort, feel overburdened, helpless and often angry, and as I hear from many, the lack of support of professional services and director unfortunately are common. All of these and similar events certainly suggest that it is difficult for teachers, and that significant changes in the educational system are needed to further educate, support, and empower teachers in their work. However, our understanding that it is difficult for teachers and that their helplessness sometimes cause them to react inappropriately, does not mean that we should characterize as appropriate or even desirable their inappropriate procedures.
Also it is not right and it is absolutely inappropriate violent behavior from students towards teachers or to each other, or to parents, or from parents towards students and so on. School should be a place without violence in whatever form violence comes, from whomever and to whomever it was directed.
Responsibility for relationship and early detection of the problem lies with us adults
We adults are responsible for the relationship and early detection of problems and timely and for prompt reactiion at the slightest form of violence by students. A child who is behaving violently is usually a symptom of problems in the family, group, community, school … We should recognize a child who is in trouble on time and help him, so that serious level of violence wouldn’t happen, so that juvenile perpetrators of violence do not become adult perpetrator of violence.
We are talking a lot about prevention, but we are doing too little. One of the basic prevention activities should be early screening – the psychological evaluation of the child and the family before enrolling in school so that we can provide support to children and families in the early stages. It is well known that 25% of psychiatric illnesses start by the age of 7 years and 50% by the age of 14 years. If we react on time, we will not only help children and families, but also society will have financial savings.
Unfortunately, in many schools teachers and professional services take all steps within the school, they invite parents, perpetrators and victims, bestow children, talk with all included, but they don’t inform social welfare center, which is institution with powers to enter the family, and doing that they can include not only a child victim’s but also a child perpetrator’s family in treatment and undertake other measures of professional assistance and support to children and families.
The school should also be an educational and upbringing institution
School often responds only when the violence completely escalates into physical conflicts, instead of responding to the slightest form of emotional violence such as mocking or ridiculing and isolating a child. All this leaves a long-term and difficult trail in the souls and hearts of these children. Therefore, the school should be both an educational and upbringing institution. There are no such lessons that may be more important than education and prevention of violence at the very first moment when it is noticed and when we should work actively with children. It is important to encourage and support teachers, as well as all staff members of the child protection system, in particular from the level of competent ministries and professional organizations, to intersectoral cooperation with the health and social system, police and justice, regardless to inconveniences that they can experience from parents, or even superiors.
Any violence is not acceptable, experts must have civil courage and professional responsibility to act in the direction of protection of children, no matter if they are exposed to a lack of understanding by parents or colleages and, which is unfortunately very often, superiors.