This blog was written on March 11, 2024 by AJ Ortiz, CHILD USA Social Science Director

CHILD USA is partnering with Virginia Commonwealth University on a CDC-sponsored research project regarding sexual abuse in schools. Working together with the nation’s leading expert on abuse in schools, Dr. Charol Shakeshaft, our goal is to evaluate the effectiveness of a prevention training program for school staff while gaining insights into how school administrators implement child abuse prevention policies. Through this study, we seek to identify best practices, improve training programs, and ultimately create safer environments for children in educational settings.


As CHILD USA continues our CDC-sponsored work to prevent educator sexual misconduct toward students, we wanted to share an excellent article on the subject from late last year. Matt Drange of Business Insider collected records from some of the largest school districts in the country and uncovered a pervasive culture of secrecy, cover-ups, and failure to protect children. The article shines a light on the problematic nature of encouraging teachers to build rapport with students without teaching them about managing appropriate boundaries.

“Teachers, he said, are often encouraged to go out of their way to help struggling students, and they need granular guidance on how not to cross boundaries. Navigating those limits can be especially challenging for young teachers in their 20s, Tennant said, who sometimes feel they have more in common with their students than with their older colleagues. The students who need additional support from teachers are often the same ones who, research shows, are most vulnerable to being groomed, a pattern that plays out again and again in the disciplinary documents we analyzed for this story.”

CHILD USA’s social scientists have interviewed dozens of school administrators across the country and identified a similar problem. Especially in close-knit communities, the lines between teacher and friend are blurred in the absence of robust supervision practices and policies to prevent isolated, off-site interactions between staff and kids.

Both the Business Insider piece and CHILD USA’s qualitative research point toward an urgent need to strengthen teacher preparation programs and implement better child protection policies in schools. We look forward to publishing our study’s results in 2025 and developing prevention recommendations to keep kids safe in schools.