April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. In recognition of this, Dillon wanted to offer some information to equip parents with the knowledge of when and how to report suspected child abuse, so we can all work together towards the goal of all children living in healthy, loving families.
Who should report child abuse or neglect?
Requirements for reporting vary by state. In Oklahoma ALL citizens are mandated reporters, meaning it is a crime to not report suspected abuse. In other states, only certain professionals are mandated reporters, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with the laws where you live. Regardless of if you are a mandatory reporter or not, if you see something suspicious, speak up. You can be the voice for a child who is not in a position to help themselves.
What are common signs of abuse or neglect?
Injuries: Injuries are common for all children, so it’s important to differentiate between typical childhood injuries and injuries that may be indicative of abuse. As a general rule, infants who have not yet started crawling rarely bruise on their own due to increased fat stores and limited mobility. A child who has bruising in various stages of healing, as well as a bruise or injury that are patterned can also be cause for concern. Also, take note of injuries if they don’t match a child’s story or a child is hesitant to share about them.
Behaviors: Children who are abused at home may appear uncomfortable around their parents or other adults. A child who has recently been introduced to an unsafe caregiver, such as a stepparent or stepsibling may have a drastic change in behavior by becoming overly compliant or defiant. A child who is suffering from neglect or abuse may also have adult-like capabilities or knowledge about certain subjects, such as caring for younger siblings, taking care of a home, or things that are sexual in nature.
Physical appearance: Children who are being abused or neglected may have poor weight gain or growth, and they also may wear clothing that doesn’t match the weather (e.g. long sleeves on a summer day).
None of these signs are conclusive that abuse is occurring in the home, as they could be caused by a number of reasons. They simply mean that the child’s situation should be examined further.
What happens if I call to report child abuse or neglect? In Oklahoma, the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline is 1-800-522-3511. Make sure you know your states Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline number. When you call, you will be asked a series of questions, such as the following. If you can’t answer all of the questions, that’s completely fine. Just make sure you have answers to the ones you can.
Has this ever happened before/how long has it been happening?
What has the child told you about the incident/injury/etc.?
Who lives in the home with the child, and what is their relationship with the child?
What is the family’s address and phone number?
What is your relationship to the child?
How does the child act around the caregivers/parents?
Does the child take medications or have any special needs?
Do you suspect drug or alcohol abuse in the home?
Do you suspect domestic violence between caregivers in the home?
Does the parent have any diagnoses that would impair their ability to care for the child?
What does the child’s home look like?
What is your contact information? The identity of the reporter is protected by law. This will never be shared with the family. The investigator assigned to the case may have additional questions about the situation and need to get in touch with you.
What happens after I report abuse or neglect?
The report will either be screened out or screened in as an investigation. If your report is screened out, it means there is not enough proof of abuse occurring for an investigator to legally enter the home. The report will be stored in the statewide database, and if future incidents occur, can be incredibly helpful to offer a history for the family.
If the report becomes an investigation, an investigator will visit the home to interview family members, walk through the home, examine any injures and ensure proper medical care is provided, and speak with references, including friends, family, and professionals. After all of this is done, a safety decision will be made on behalf of the child.