Parents, how would you feel if your child came home from school with bruises or cuts?
My kids are five and six years old and personally, I’d make sure to question them about their injuries until I am satisfied with their answers. More often than not, they would have hurt themselves while playing (after all, I know how distracted they can get).
But what if your child is unable to talk yet?
16-month-old sustains pulled elbow while under the care of childcare teacher
Earlier this year, Mirielle Innam took to Facebook to share her grievances on how her 16-month-old daughter was treated at her infant care provider.
On 8 Oct last year, Mirielle picked her daughter, AK, from infant care at 6.30pm and noticed that she wouldn’t stop crying.
At first, she had dismissed it as AK being cranky after waking up from her nap, but AK didn’t stop crying even after they reached home.
That was when Mirielle suspected something was amiss. When she took her daughter out of the baby carrier, she saw that AK’s left hand was “curled up”.
Mirielle called the infant care centre and spoke briefly with AK’s teacher, who downplayed the incident. Nevertheless, the worried parents rushed AK to NUH Children’s Emergency where a doctor diagnosed her with a left pulled elbow. Mirielle wrote in her post that the doctor mentioned that the injury could not be caused by a normal tug but would have required a brute amount of force.
So, as most parents would have done, Mirielle asked to see the preschool principal. She wanted to understand the events that led up to her daughter’s injury.
However, after three months of back-and-forth negotiations with no conclusion from both the preschool centre and its headquarters, Mirielle decided to make a police report and share her concerns publicly on Facebook.
Her main grievance, as she wrote on her Facebook post, was how she saw the incident being handled and what she believed to be the skirting of the issue by the preschool staff.
Mirielle’s post has been shared over 4,000 times on Facebook by concerned parents. And police investigations are still ongoing.
Transparency in preschools is crucial
In my experience, my daughters’ teachers will usually call to inform me or my husband if my children get in any accident in school. Once, a teacher accidentally stepped on my 6-year-old’s hand while she was sleeping and she personally apologised to me that same day when I arrived at the centre to pick up my daughter.
And that should be the way for all preschools.
Educators are entrusted not only with the responsibility to develop our children mentally and physically, but also to be role models to them when parents are not around to teach them right from wrong. Educators are expected to show accountability in their actions rather than prevaricating or covering up their mistakes.
Granted, babies aren’t going to be paying that much attention to their teachers’ behaviour yet, but educators must be held to a higher standard than just child-minders.
A netizen, Janny Huynh, who shared Mirielle’s post, wrote: “The sad thing is that, more than just physical abuse, mental and emotional abuse (can also go) undetected. All kinds of abuse are permanent trauma for the child… I hope this case gets noticed and serves as a wake-up call for (early-childhood) educators.”
Support fellow parents with empathy
If you are not sure about sending your toddler to a new preschool, it can be helpful to talk to the other parents who have already enrolled their children there. Here is where joining a parent support group may help.
Creating or joining a parents support group for your child’s preschool can serve as a community forum. You can support fellow parents by bringing up issues that you encounter at your child’s preschool. It can serve as a warning sign if there are many parents who raise the same concerns, and the issue may then be highlighted to the preschool management more effectively.
On the flip side, it can also serve as a place to find reassurance if the issue you brought up is not as critical as it may seem.
However, do practise empathy when talking to other parents as everyone has their own level of comfort when it comes to their children.
Some parents are more hands off while others are known to be overly protective and involved in their children’s lives. For some, skinned knees are part and parcel of life (it happens to the best of us, what more young children who are still learning to walk properly!) but other parents might expect teachers to keep a close eye on their children and catch them before they fall.
Commenting on Mirielle’s post, Farah Jumaat, 30, who is a parent to a 3-year-old, says, “Some parents (in the comments) say that a pulled elbow is a common occurrence and that this parent is kicking up a fuss. However, I think the issue is more about the parents sending the child to a trusted school only to come back with an injured child. Where is the empathy?”
In other words, the problem isn’t so much that Mirielle’s daughter was injured because of an unintentional act by the teacher, but that it came with a lack of transparency by the preschool staff.
Improve parent-teacher communication
That said, we must beware of over-generalising based on one bad experience. One careless teacher or one defensive school management should not make us mistrust all preschools.
Cases like AK’s happen once in a blue moon.
According to a report by the Ministry of Social and Family Development last year, there were an average of 15 reported cases of alleged child mismanagement in Anchor Operator and Partner Operator centres annually between 2017 to 2019. Of these, over 60 per cent (three in every five cases) were unsubstantiated.
Nevertheless, one bad apple can end up spoiling the entire barrel. It is important to have transparency in schools – such as protocols for reporting injuries or incidents – and to hold teachers accountable for their actions.
This isn’t to find fault. Parents themselves must learn not to be so demanding and to work together – not against! – with the educators who care for their children. Transparency and accountability ensure that all parents have confidence in leaving their beloved children in the care of others.
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A child protection services officer I spoke to, shares, “It doesn’t matter which school one sends their child to… as long as there is one bad teacher, the risk will always be there. I think it is also important to have a good relationship with the school and to know our rights as parents.”
That’s why it is important for these caregivers not to be strangers. Engagement and dialogue is key. And schools certainly shouldn’t wait for parents to complain before taking action. Communicating one’s expectations is important, and if the school is unable to meet them, it may be better to find another one that can.
At the end of the day, as parents, we understand our children best and should take note of any changes in their physical and emotional health. Some warning signs of child abuse include unexplained injuries, self-stimulatory behaviours, for example, rocking, head banging, and crying excessively, or not at all.
As a parent to two young children, I fully empathise with Mirielle and I hope she receives the appropriate closure for her daughter soon.