A committee of Div. 37 (Children Youth and Families) has developed a curriculum that contains material and guidance for secondary education teachers who would like to incorporate information about child abuse and neglect into their teaching.

Pepperdine University psychologist Cindy Miller-Perrin, PhD, the main author of the curriculum, says the coursework is the only one to comprehensively address the topic of child maltreatment for this audience. Miller-Perrin also chaired the committee--an entity of the Section on Child Maltreatment of Div. 37--that developed it.

"While there are curricula available on related topics such as violence prevention, child maltreatment hasn't been dealt with this comprehensively or specifically," Miller-Perrin says. "We hope this will make the topic more accessible for teachers and help them address the issue more effectively with their students."

A 1999 article in Teaching of Psychology journal (Vol. 26, No. 4) demonstrates why such a curriculum is so important, Miller-Perrin says. Authors Elizabeth J. Letourneau and Tonya C. Lewis reviewed 24 recently published introductory psychology textbooks and found large gaps in the way they treated the issue of child sexual abuse. Many of them dealt primarily with the controversial issue of repressed memories rather than more substantive topics.

For example, while 83 percent of the texts presented some information on child sexual abuse, only 45 percent included information that wasn't related to the repressed/false memory debate. In addition, 75 percent of the books made unsupported claims or overgeneralizations when discussing memory issues, the authors found.

The curriculum is divided into teaching units that address all aspects of child maltreatment, including:

  • Definitions and rates of child maltreatment.
  • Factors associated with child maltreatment.
  • Effects associated with child maltreatment.
  • Responding to child maltreatment.
  • Preventing child maltreatment.

Each section ends by suggesting possibilities for group discussions and activities.

The curriculum also suggests ways teachers can present the curriculum's sensitive material in a manner comfortable for them and their students, Miller-Perrin says. It also suggests what teachers can do if a student discloses abuse.

Finally, the curriculum contains a lengthy section of supplemental resources including videos, films, books, Web sites and enrichment activities.

Mary Spilis, chair of APA's Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools, says she's impressed by the curriculum's breadth and clarity.

"This curriculum needs to be in the hands of teachers as much as it does students," Spilis comments. "The information is presented in such a way that I imagine many teachers will learn a lot they didn't know about before. As we educate the educator, they'll do a much better job of informing the students."

The idea for the curriculum arose from recommendations of an APA working group chaired by Cornell psychologist Jeffrey Haugaard, PhD. The group had discussed possible ways to educate and train teachers and students about child abuse and neglect, and advocated in a 1995 article in the Journal of Clinical Child Psychology (Vol. 24, pp. 78­83) that a high school curriculum on the topic be designed.

Div. 37's Section on Child Maltreatment acted on the idea and formed a committee, chaired by Miller-Perrin, that spent the next four years creating the curriculum. After two internal reviews, the executive committee of Div. 37's Section on Child Maltreatment approved it at the APA Annual Convention in Washington, D.C., in August.

    Further Reading

    Copies can be obtained by e-mailing Miller-Perrin at cindy.perrin@pepperdine.edu, or by writing to her at Pepperdine University, Social Science Division, Malibu, CA 90263. Eventually the curriculum will be posted on the section's Web page, www.apa.org/divisions/div37.

    Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N.Y.