REMEMBER, IF YOU SEE IT, HEAR IT, OR SUSPECT IT, THE LAW REQUIRES YOU TO REPORT IT! THINK YOU'RE OVERREACTING OR THAT SOMEONE ELSE WILL CALL? WRONG! BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY!
If you suspect a child is being abused, it's critical to get them the help he or she needs. Reporting child abuse seems so official. Many people are reluctant to get involved in other families' lives.
Understanding some of the myths behind reporting may help put your mind at ease if you need to report child abuse.
►I don’t want to interfere in someone else’s family. The effects of child abuse are lifelong, affecting future relationships, self-esteem, and sadly putting even more children at risk of abuse as the cycle continues. Help break the cycle of child abuse.
►What if I break up someone’s home? The priority in child protective services is keeping children in the home. A child abuse report does not mean a child is automatically removed from the home - unless the child is clearly in danger. Support such as parenting classes, anger management or other resources may be offered first to parents if safe for the child.
►They will know it was me who called. Reporting is anonymous. In most places, you do not have to give your name when you report child abuse. The child abuser cannot find out who made the report of child abuse.
►It won’t make a difference what I have to say. If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, it is better to be safe than sorry. Even if you don’t see the whole picture, others may have noticed as well, and a pattern can help identify child abuse that might have otherwise slipped through the cracks.
Reporting child abuse can bring up a lot of difficult emotions and uncertainty. You may ask yourself if you're doing the right thing, or question if your voice will even be heard. Here are some tips for communicating effectively in difficult situations:
►Try to be as specific as you can. For example, instead of saying, "The parents are not dressing their children right," say something like, "I saw the child running outside three times last week in subzero weather without a jacket or hat. I saw him shivering and uncomfortable. He seemed to want to come inside." However, remember that it is not your job to "prove" abuse or neglect. If suspicions are all you have, you should report those as well.
►Understand that you may not learn of the outcome. Due to confidentiality laws in the U.S., unless you are a mandated reporter in an official capacity, you probably won't be updated by Child Protective Services (CPS) about the results of their investigation. The family may not broadcast that they have been mandated services, either—but that doesn't mean they are not receiving them.
►If you see future incidences, continue to call and report them. Each child abuse report is a snapshot of what is going on in the family. The more information that you can provide, the better the chance of getting the best care for the child.
Anyone who might suspect that your child is being abused or neglected may call CPS to report the suspicion. Each state or local community has its own 1-800 number and 24-hour hotline. Any member of the community, parents, or child victims themselves can call and make a report of suspected child abuse or neglect.
CALL CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES: State law requires anybody who believes that a child has been abused or neglected to make a report to the Child Protective Services (CPS) program or to a law enforcement agency. The law requires CPS to investigate these reports to protect children
You can file a report online; however, you may need to check the respective abuse website for your state for availability. NOTE: Anonymous reports are not accepted via the internet reporting sites.
WHAT WILL YOU BE ASKED?
►Name, age, and address of the child
►Your name and contact information
►Brief description of the situation and the child (give as many details as you possibly can)
►Current injuries, medical problems, or behavioral problems (appears malnourished, bruising, unsupervised while playing outside, etc.)
►Parents' names and names of siblings in the home (if you don't know their names, provide the agent a physical description of the parent/caregivers, make/model/ of vehicle, along with license plate numbers)
►Explain how you know about the situation
The following link provides you with the current national list for reporting child abuse and neglect in your state. REMEMBER, child abuse and neglect for these children is an EMERGENCY...call 911 first!
POLICE WELFARE/WELLNESS CHECKS: If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected and is in immediate danger, we encourage you to call 911 and ask for a welfare/wellness check on that child. After contacting the police, proceed to call CPS as well, so that the incident is on record! With reporting the abuse to the police, there are several advantages vs. only reporting through CPS.
The latter is not meant to discourage you from contacting Child Protective Services. On the contrary, we encourage you to ALWAYS call and report the abuse/suspected abuse to CPS; however, if the child is in immediate danger, CALL 911! Remember, if you see that no one has followed up on the call and visited the home, KEEP CALLING AND REPORTING until someone does show up!
Taking action will probably make you anxious. That's understandable, as it's such an important undertaking. Nevertheless, you'll rest easier knowing that due to your intervention, the child and their parent will be getting help and attention. Remember, child abuse is 100% preventable. Everyone must be part of the solution.
►74% I was scared.
►60% I was embarrassed.
►55% I didn't want to get into trouble.
►47% I didn't want anyone else to get
►46% No one would believe me.
►29% I still like/love the other person.
►29% I was my fault as much as the
Source: Kellogg and Huston, 1995, pp. 308-309
►76% I told because I couldn't hold it in any longer.
►56% I told because I wanted it to stop so my life
could go on.
►56% I told because I wanted him/her to be
►53% I finally felt comfortable enough to tell.
►50% I was afraid someone else would get hurt if I
►48% I was afraid I'd get hurt if I didn't tell.
►41% I told because I couldn't sleep/ eat/ think
►41% I got tired of the unwanted sexual experiences.
►40% Someone else convinced me to tell
►35% Someone else told me about their unwanted
►31% I was pregnant or afraid I might be.
►28% Due to a school program about unwanted sex
►22% I told because I didn't want to go home.
Source: Kellogg and Huston, 1995, pp. 308-309
The following are some of the most common questions about how and when people should get involved when they suspect child abuse or neglect.
SCENARIO: Someone you know has become aggressive with their child, and it's clear things aren't quite right even if there's no obvious abuse yet.
WHAT TO DO IMMEDIATELY: Experts suggest making a comment like: "Parenting is a tough job." Or using humor to let the parent know you've been there: "Kids can really act up, can't they?"
Making a quick comment can calm the parent down. "A lot of times we believe we're the only ones going through things."
WHAT YOU SHOULDN'T DO: Don't criticize. The cardinal rule is don't criticize the parent, because you will immediately antagonize the parent.
NEXT STEPS: Turn the attention to the child, so you can talk about what's best for him or her. Ask how you can help, perhaps by watching the child for a few hours. Mention support groups or churches.
The stressful moment you witnessed usually isn't a one-time thing, so don't reach out once and just let it go. If the problems continue YOU NEED TO REPORT IT.
If it makes you uncomfortable, go with your gut and call CPS. Let CPS decide what's going on.
SCENARIO: You don't have an established relationship with the potential abuser -- as in the case of a neighbor, for example -- and you hear or see abuse next door.
WHAT TO DO IMMEDIATELY: First of all, if you see a child being abused, or hear a child screaming in pain, CALL 911. If you have suspicions that a child is at risk,` every state has a hotline that you can call to make a report. They will ask for your name and number, but you can choose to remain anonymous. Even if you are not certain about all the specifics. MAKE THE CALL! It's then up to the investigators to follow through.
WHAT YOU SHOULDN'T DO: Don't investigate the situation on your own. Let CPS or the responding officers handle it because you don't want to put yourself in danger or escalate the situation.
NEXT STEPS: If the situation persists and no one has responded, call again. Experts advise against getting personally involved.
SCENARIO: The child is screaming, and the parent "loses" it as she walks through the grocery store, but there is no physical harm to the child.
WHAT TO DO IMMEDIATELY: Make a quick comment and try to calm the parent down. Start a conversation with the adult to direct attention away from the child. Offer assurance through a smile or a positive comment. Show empathy. Imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Even when it's a stranger, all it takes in a situation like this is to smile at the parent and say, "Gosh, it's hard. It is so hard. I remember when I was there."
It's more likely for a parent that feels embarrassed to take his/her anger out on the child. If the parent knows other people understand what he/she is going through, then he/she will probably calm down.
WHAT YOU SHOULDN'T DO: Don't criticize. Again, that will only anger the parent more.
NEXT STEPS: If the situation continues to escalate, and the parent physically harms the child, call the police and try to get a license plate number. Don't intervene personally because you could put yourself in danger.
SCENARIO: You see a young child wandering the streets or any public place alone.
WHAT TO DO IMMEDIATELY: If you can't find the parent, make a joke and get their attention. If you're in a store, help the child find the parent.
WHAT YOU SHOULDN'T DO: Don't criticize. Again, that will only anger the parent more. Don't discipline the child personally. DON'T WALK AWAY AND IGNORE IT.
NEXT STEPS: If you can't find the parents, call the police or CPS.
It really takes a village to keep our children safe. It takes lawmakers, parents, teachers, social workers, and physicians working together, raising awareness, understanding and pursuing the rights of children, speaking up if you see something, feel something or your gut tells you something. We must always err on the side of protecting children. Why? Because there is a child out there who does not have a voice - a child who does not know who to tell, who is scared, ashamed, sad, nervous and whose world is falling apart.
We must all take a stand and give a voice to the thousands of children who so desperately need one. A traumatized child’s own voice can often be the quietest thing in the world, a whisper, or a muted gasp played out only in body language. Body language that pleads “HELP ME”, but goes unnoticed, unheard. Other times this voice is so loud (deafening tantrums) it’s often written off as “behavioral” and stopped by parents at all cost – even at the cost of silence. In the end, it is not a voice that many hear or pay attention to.
There have been too many cases in the papers where the neighbors or even family members knew the child was being hurt or being beaten or that they heard screams, and they did nothing. And that's tragic. It's better that we make a phone call, whether it be to CPS or the police, and everything's OK than that we do nothing and things get worse and children get seriously injured or die.
In many situations, a child may be unable or unwilling to report their own abuse or neglect.
Therefore, it is important that the network of adults in a child’s life are vigilant advocates, giving
abused children a voice.
A child may not report abuse because they cannot talk, do not understand what is happening, are afraid, or have no one to talk to.
The law requires certain people to report potential child abuse or neglect. This includes health professionals, church leaders, child guardians, school personnel or anyone else responsible for the care of the child, but neighbors and the general public also have an obligation to keep children safe.
Most child abuse and neglect happens behind closed doors, so the signs aren't always obvious and often fall into a gray area. You may see a child with multiple unexplained bruises. Maybe it's a little boy wandering around your neighborhood alone. Or maybe you see a stranger lose their cool at the grocery store, and he/she "smacks" her child.
It's unknown how many cases of child abuse or neglect aren't reported every year, but experts know cases are underreported. More often than not, somebody saw or heard something suspicious but didn't do anything about it.