Date of Award

May 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education and Human Development

Committee Member

Sandra M Linder

Committee Member

Faiza M Jamil

Committee Member

Mindy Spearman

Committee Member

Brooke Wymer-Ellis


According to ACF (2018) every 9 minutes, Child Protective Services (CPS) substantiates, or receives evidence of, a claim of child sexual abuse (CSA). Children who are sexually abused are likely to experience a variety of short- and long-term effects; including, but not limited to: (i) depression; (ii) anger and/or aggressive behaviors; (iii) trouble sleeping; (iv) behavior problems; and (v) anxiety (Bernier, Hébert, & Collin-Vézina, 2013; van der Kolk, 2003). Given that CSA is one of the seven identified ACEs (Filetti et al., 1998) CSA victims are also likely to experience effects lasting well into adolescence and adulthood; these effects include, but are not limited to, drug abuse and suicide.

Researchers have determined that, given their level of access to children, teachers make ideal detectors and reporters of child sexual abuse (e.g. Smith, 2005). However, research (e.g. Mathews et al., 2017) has found that there is a tendency to under-report cases of child maltreatment and neglect to CPS. Given that an estimated 35% of CSA victims are under the age of 7 (Brilleslijper-Kater, Friedrich, & Corwin, 2004) it is important to understand the knowledge, beliefs, and experiences of early childhood educators with respect to CSA.

The following research question, How do early childhood educators navigate the process of reporting child sexual abuse?, was explored using a constructivist grounded theory design. The interviews of six teachers, in addition to analytic memos, were code and led to the emergence of five categories: (i) training; (ii) detection; (iii) consulting; (iv) reporting; and (v) coping. These categories later emerged into the theoretical stages of reporting CSA to CPS; which were found to either be experienced: (i) linearly, meaning the stages have little overlap; or (ii) fluidly, meaning there is overlap between each, or some, of the five stages. These theoretical stages can be used to: (i) understand the overall experience of reporting CSA to CPS; and (ii) potentially, to understand why there is a tendency to under-report cases of CSA, and other forms of child maltreatment, to CPS. Future research recommendations include replicating this work in other parts of the country to present a more holistic understanding regarding the training, detection, and reporting experiences of early childhood educators with respect to CSA, but also other forms of child maltreatment and neglect.



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