What to Do if You Suspect Abuse
If you think someone you know is abusing a child
Preventing child abuse is everybody’s business. If you think a child in the neighborhood is being abused, do not ignore the situation. Some warning signs that a parent might be abusive include staying away from other parents in the neighborhood, not participating in school functions, showing signs of a drug or alcohol addiction, and being unwilling or nervous about discussing their child’s injuries. There are many things you can do to help the child. First, introduce yourself to the family. Learn about them and their situation. Bring a dinner or a dessert over. Perhaps the mother, father, or other care giver is overly stressed, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or simply unable to care for the children. If you can, volunteer to watch after the children occasionally to give them a break. Support them with words of encouragement and sympathy. After some time, you may be close enough or know enough to recommend a parenting support group, an educational class, or even a doctor or counselor who can help. If the child is being abused, it must be reported. Just as child abuse is a crime, so is not reporting it. With one phone call, you could save a child’s life.
If you think that a baby-sitter, teacher, child care provider, or other acquaintance is abusing a child, you must stop it. Limit or supervise contact between the child and the suspected abuser if you can. The child MUST be protected from further harm. To report abuse, you need only a reasonable suspicion, not absolute proof. There are many places you can call for help.
Look below to find out what to do if you think a family member is abusing a child, if you think your child is being abused, or if a child tells you about abuse.
- Contact your local child protective agency, police, hospital, or emergency hotline.
- Agencies for reporting abuse are under the Department of Health and Human Resources in the phone book. It may be under social services, children and family services, child protective services, or human welfare services. If it is a weekend, holiday, or late at night, contact the police or an emergency hotline.
- Call the Childhelp USA 24 hour national child abuse hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD. Childhelp USA is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization that can put you in touch with a counselor immediately or help you find a reporting agency near you.
- Abuse must be reported in the state in which it occurs.
- You can remain anonymous, although it makes it more difficult for the agency to contact you if they have further questions.
- Try to supply the child’s name, age, address, gender, school, and parents’ names.
- You can make the report in person, over the telephone, or by mail.
- File a report.
- If the child is young, or if there are no physical signs of abuse, or if the child is a family member, a social services agency will most likely handle the case.
- If a non-family member is abusing the child, the police may take the case.
- After you report, you may or may not be able to learn what happens to the child because of confidentiality laws. The agency will do what they can to help the child. Call and check to see how the case is being handled.
- The child welfare agency will decide upon the appropriate course of action.
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