Reporting Child Abuse

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 What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse refers to anything that involves the physical, mental and emotional mistreatment of children.

Child abuse occurs when someone hurts, neglects, or abuses a child. A child is anyone under the age of 18.

What You Should Know About Child Abuse

Child abuse is an unfortunate and widespread problem in the United States. Every year, thousands of children are subjected to physical, emotional, or sexual mistreatment that can have severe long-term effects on their lives.

Only some kids will show the signs of child abuse. There are some signs, however, that might indicate someone is being hurt or abused without showing any physical marks.

For example, acting out sexually at an unusually young age could mean that a child is being exposed to something inappropriate. Another example is when a child only wants their caregiver around which could be an indication that they feel unsafe where they live.

What are Some Forms of Child Abuse?

There are several different types and forms of child abuse.

Physical Abuse
Physical abuse occurs when a parent or caregiver physically harms a child through actions such as:

  • Hitting or slapping;
  • Beating;
  • Shaking;
  • Throwing a child;
  • Kicking;
  • Biting; or
  • Burning

Mental or Emotional Abuse
Hitting is not the only kind of physical abuse against children. There are many other ways that adults can hurt kids:

  • Locking them inside a room or closet
  • Putting them in dangerous positions (like dangling them over an edge)
  • Hurting their pets
  • Belittling
  • Shaming
  • Humiliating
  • Terrorizing or threatening the child or
  • Isolating a child from friends and family.

Neglect occurs when a parent or caregiver doesn’t provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional and educational needs. The failure to meet these needs can result in injury or even death.

  • Not providing needed age appropriate care;
  • Failure to give proper supervision;
  • Failure to give proper nutrition, clothing, or shelter; or
  • Denying medical care.

Sexual Abuse
The legal age of consent for sexual activity in the United States varies from state to state, but the age of consent is generally from 16 to 18 years old. This means that an adult cannot legally have sex with a child for in any form or manner, whether it be by force or coercion or not—any such interaction would constitute sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse occurs when someone performs any type of sexual act with a child including:

  • Touching the child’s genitals for pleasure (non-medical reasons)
  • Making the child touch another person’s genitals (also non-medical reasons)
  • Having sex with a minor for expoitation or prostitution;
  • Forcing sex with an adult;
  • Forcing sex between two minors; or
  • Showing pornography to a minor.

What Are The Standard Procedures For Reporting Child Abuse?

There are standard procedures for reporting child abuse such as:

1) Determine whether the child has been abused.
The first step of reporting child abuse is to determine whether the child has been abused. If it seems that the child’s injuries or behavior are not directly caused by an accident, illness, or another identifiable cause or the explanation does not make sense, then you should question the parent further about what happened.

This may be difficult if you do not know them well, so you can always ask someone more familiar with them for advice on how to approach this sensitive topic.

2) Decide whether this is a reportable event.
The next step is to decide whether this is a reportable event. Laws differ from state to state regarding who must report abuse and when they must do so; therefore, it is important that you know your legal guidelines.

3) Make the mandated report, if required by your state.
When in doubt, it is usually better to make a report and be wrong than to not make a report and let the child remain at risk.

Otherwise, make a phone call to Child Protective Services (or equivalent).The final step depends on where you live. If your state or country requires people who work with children (e.g., teachers, physicians, nurses) to report suspected child abuse, then you must make a mandated report if you have reasonable cause to suspect abuse has occurred based on the criteria listed in your particular state or country.

Laws may vary depending on where you are living, so, if in doubt about what actions you can legally take, you may need to ask an attorney or consult your state’s Division of Child Protective Services.

Though reporting child abuse can be intimidating, knowing what to do if there is a suspicion of abuse will always help ensure more children grow up safe and protected from any potential harm they might encounter.

What are My Responsibilities If I Suspect Child Abuse?

If a child discloses sexual or physical abuse to you it is important that you listen carefully and never blame the victim for causing the incident. Acknowledge that they have been hurt, but try not to ask too many specific questions about what happened.

Instead focus on reassuring them that they did nothing wrong and encourage them to tell someone else about what happened in case they feel worried or afraid later on.

Be calm and supportive when speaking with the child, reassure them of your support, make sure they feel safe and tell them you are sorry they were hurt.

It is important to let the child know that you believe what they are telling you, because there may be other adults involved who don’t realize their actions have caused harm, or they may want to cover it up or silence the child so it doesn’t get any worse.

Depending on how far you go in your conversation with a child about sexual or physical abuse, it might be helpful to suggest some next steps such as:

  • Tell someone else about what happened (such as another parent/guardian/family member)
  • Speak to a doctor or nurse at the local medical center
  • Talk with a school counselor
  • Contact Child Protective Services

This will help ensure that your conversation is taken seriously by others who can investigate and take actions on behalf of a child. If you cannot tell if a child is being abused, but have concerns about a family’s home situation, you should still report it.

If you are concerned enough about possible sexual or physical abuse, where there is an imminent risk of harm, you may need to call 911 if local police/sheriff officers are unable to respond. You can also call your local Child Protective Services (CPS). Some states have child abuse hotlines you can call.

What are my responsibilities as a school teacher?

As a teacher, you have a responsibility to report any suspected abuse of children in your care under the laws of most states.

There are laws that outline the requirements of individuals who work with children. If child abuse or neglect is suspected, then it is required to make an immediate report. This generally applies to all public school employees like teachers, principals, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, counselors, or librarians. You are not required to investigate or provide proof of the suspected abuse; you only need to report the information that was given about it.

What are my responsibilities as a worker in a daycare center?

If you work in an early childhood center (childcare facility) your responsibility is similar to that of a teacher in that you must make an immediate oral report or make a written one within a certain time frame.

You may also have legal responsibilities under state or federal laws which regulate how daycares are run. Childcare facility staff are typically not mandated reporters under state laws, but they must follow all rules outlined by their Department of Family & Protective Services license.

If you suspect child abuse is taking place at a childcare facility where you work, you should check the rules of your facility and follow any additional reporting guidelines that may exist.

Should I Hire an Attorney for Help Reporting Child Abuse?

If you think someone is being hurt or abused and you want to know what your legal duties are, ask a family law attorney. It’s really important to know because it could save a kid from getting hurt or worse. Moreover, some states require the abuse be reported or a person could face charges.

If you are the one being accused of child abuse, then you should ask your lawyer what to do next. If you are not represented by an attorney, then it is important that you understand how to protect yourself against accusations.
You also need to know how to prove that the abuse did not happen in order to minimize the risk of being falsely accused.


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