Observe and report

In my last column, I wrote about two school bus driver-attendant teams who had spotted clear signs that a 13-year-old girl was being abused by her adoptive mother.

Although they reported what they had seen to police and Social Services, the authorities weren’t able to save the girl, Alexis “Lexie” Glover. Her body was found in a shallow creek on Jan. 9, and her adoptive mother is charged with murder.

Not long after I wrote that column, Maine Gov. John Baldacci signed into law a bill that adds school bus drivers and attendants to a list of “mandated reporters” of child abuse.

The list already comprised more than 30 types of professions, including doctors, nurses, dentists, teachers, child care workers, camp counselors, film processors, psychologists and law enforcement officials.

Now school bus drivers and attendants in Maine, like people in these other positions, will be required to complete a brief training session and report child abuse to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

The training is free and can be done in a local class or online via the Maine government Website.

A statement issued by Rep. Rob Eaton, who introduced the bill, said that school bus drivers and attendants are “another important piece of the prevention puzzle.” The legislator noted that, unlike teachers, bus drivers may have some of the same students for many years, and they are in a perceptive position.

“Bus drivers frequently have verbal interaction with children and observe parents and children together,” the statement said. “They also see children in a less structured environment than the classroom, and they observe interaction with peers.”

Need for intervention
Some may argue that mandating school bus personnel to report child abuse amounts to legislating common sense, but requiring the free, convenient training is certainly a worthwhile move.

Still, as I wrote in my last column, Lexie’s case showed that vigilant drivers and attendants can only do so much. It’s up to child welfare officials to step in and protect endangered kids, but there are often cracks in the system.

That notion was reinforced by a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, which uncovered that 14 children in L.A. County died of abuse and neglect last year even though their families had been under investigation by child welfare officials.

In one case, a boy died of multiple skull fractures despite the fact that his family had been reported to the Department of Family Services 25 times.

According to the newspaper, a county supervisor said that disciplinary and training procedures are lacking in the department, but department officials and social workers contended that the problem is unmanageable caseloads due to understaffing and outdated technology.

Ultimately, the most vexing aspect of these types of cases is what could drive a parent to inflict such harm on his or her own child. That’s especially hard to grasp from the perspective of the pupil transportation industry, which does everything it can to keep kids out of harm’s way.

Thomas McMahon Executive Editor
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