When you suspect child abuse, what should you do about it? Reporting child abuse is mandated for people in many professions. Here's why. With the prevalence of suspected child abuse and neglect and actual cases of child abuse and neglect, there are mandated reporters, usually professionals, who must comply with the law and report. Also, in some states, everyone is mandated to report suspected child abuse.
“All States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have statutes identifying persons who are required to report suspected child maltreatment to an appropriate agency, such as child protective services, a law enforcement agency, or a State’s toll-free child abuse reporting hotline.” The Child Welfare Information Gateway
While not all of the following symptoms are consistent with neglect and abuse, a number of problems may reveal a significant problem for the child.
Suspected Neglect Red Flags
- Parent not available to care appropriately/child has no one to go home to
- Parent denies medical services when recommended
- Child consistently smelling, wearing dirty clothes, or not having the appropriate clothes for the weather or for school/other events
- Child not having enough to eat/hoarding food/malnourished
- Child hoarding other things like toys, pens and pencils, notebooks, etc.
- Child not having safe shelter
- Child missing a lot of school
- Child's grades getting worse
- Child has mental health problems such as cutting and burning self, depression, anxiety, OCD
Suspected Physical Abuse Red Flags (may include the above)
- Signs of bruises/burns/broken bones and teeth or appears in pain
- Child withdraws from others
- Children wetting themselves frequently
- Child has aggressiveness/threatening behaviors and violence
- Child has other acting-out behaviors such as burning things and violence to animals
- Child is fearful of any touch
- Child runs away from home and/or tries to stay away from home as much as possible
Suspected Sexual Abuse Red Flags (may include the above)
- Itching or pain in the genital area
- Urinary pain
- Reported bleeding and bruising in genitals
- Has an STD
- Fear of going home or of one particular person
- Sexualized behavior
- Sexualized behavior of an adult towards the child
- Child is knowledgeable/sexually advanced for the age
- Child has sexualized behavior towards a peer that goes beyond normal age-appropriate curiosity
Who Are Mandatory Reporters
So if you are questioning any of the above indicators, they must be taken seriously. For mandatory reporters, we must report such suspicions to authorities. While mandatory reporters vary by state, the most common reporters include:
- Social workers and psychologists
- Counselors/therapists/other mental health professionals
- Teachers/school administrators/guidance counselors/other school personal as indicated by the state requirements
- Physicians/nurses/dentists/dental hygienists/EMTs/all other medical personnel
- Medical examiners
- Law enforcement
- Child care workers
- Foster care workers
- Federal and state employees who are mandated such as Department of Human Services employees, child and family services workers, etc.
Mandated reporters may vary by state, so check your state for guidelines. But also, everyone can report if they are fearful of child abuse and in some states, everyone is a mandatory reporter no matter their profession. No one is ever punished for making a report in good faith – meaning that they believed a child was in danger. Reports are also confidential or mostly confidential (see by state).
How Reports Are Made
States may require a phone call, written documentation and a specific form for reporting, which gathers as much information about the child, family, and alleged abuser as possible. Also required will be details about the gathered information such as where the alleged abuse took place and what behaviors led the reporter to believe there was abuse or neglect. Also, for some mandated reporters who don’t report suspected neglect and abuse, they can be sued in civil court and in criminal court. As a reporter, you don’t make the decision regarding whether or not there is neglect or abuse as that is the task of Child Protection Services (or other-named services that may vary by state).
There are approximately 20 states/territories that require anyone to report suspected problems. As these rules vary by state and can change at any time, it is important for you to know the reporting guidelines in your area. Be proactive in your knowledge and understanding of these guidelines, whether you are a mandated reporter or a person who is concerned.
Much of this information was gathered from the Child Welfare Information Gateway of the Children’s Bureau and is highly recommended for all mandated reporters