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Educators' Role in Abuse Cases Questioned After Child's Death

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The death this month in New York City of 6-year-old Elizabeth Steinberg, known as Lisa, has presented educators there and elsewhere with troubling questions about their role in protecting children from child abuse.

Lisa allegedly died from a beating administered by her adoptive father, Joel B. Steinberg, a lawyer who reportedly was known to have repeatedly assaulted his long-time companion, Hedda Nussbaum.

Mr. Steinberg and Ms. Nussbaum have been charged with murder in Lisa's death. But the Nov. 5 tragedy has opened a period of what one social worker called "soul searching," in which others who came in contact with the child are questioning the extent of their own responsibility.

According to newspaper accounts, city social-service agencies and even a police officer had had suspicions that Lisa was being physically abused. But no one, apparently, acted on those suspicions.

"No one made a determination that the child was in danger," said Joy R. Byers, coordinator of public awareness for the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse, in Chicago. "It seems that the system broke down."

Questions about the school's place in that system were raised the week following Lisa's death at New York City's P.S. 41, where the 6-year-old was enrolled.

At a special meeting of the school's pta, parents and teachers alike sought answers to why the child's predicament had been unknown to school authorities and how to keep similar oversights from happening in the future.

As the mother of a 3rd-grade pupil told The New York Times, "I have to know what went wrong. ... Was it just ignorance? Was there another element involved? Were the appropriate people notified?"

In an interview last week, Ms. Byers said the chief lesson educators should learn from the Steinberg case is not to be reluctant to report suspected abuse. "We are responsible for the children next door," she said.

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