Disclaimer: This is probably going to be one of the least fun posts that I will post regarding Foster Care & Adoption but it is one of the most important. Some content may be hard to read but they happen in real life & are important Not only do I encourage you to read this post in full, but share it…you could help save a child!
Child Abuse Prevention Month
Did you know that April is Child Abuse Prevention Month? Far too many children are being abused or neglected year after year. The numbers are alarming with over 600,000 confirmed reports of child abuse in 2015, in America alone. These are the reported & confirmed cases. Some instances go undetected or simply unreported.
Why? Sometimes people are reluctant to report for fear of involvement, “lack of proper evidence” or simply being unaware of the signs of abuse & neglect. Sometimes the signs are subtle but they are often there. One of the best things that you can do to help is to make yourself aware of the signs & what to do if you suspect a child is being abused, especially if you have children or work with children in any capacity.
Let me first begin by saying that it is not a reporter’s job to prove that a child is being abused, that is the job of child protective services. However, social services cannot do anything until a report is made. In the state of Virginia, (which is what this blog is based on) corporal punishment is allowed and the social services website clearly states that “The intent of the reporting law is not to interfere with appropriate parental discipline but to respond to extreme or inappropriate parental actions that are excessive or forceful enough to leave injuries.”. With that being said, the point of Child Protective Services is simply to protect children & ensure that all families are able to thrive properly.
Not every report to social services will result in a child being removed from the home immediately. Instances like that happen only when there is a clear & imminent threat on a child’s life. In most instances, social services will take time to assess the family and most likely begin working with the family to guide the family towards a healthier parenting & the ability to thrive. If this is not possible, then a child is removed.
The Different Types of Abuse & How to Identify Them
In the state of Virginia, there are five types of defined abuse/neglect. They are (1) emotional abuse, (2) physical abuse, (3) sexual abuse, (4) physical neglect and (5) medical neglect. Know that more often that not, two or more types of abuse often happen in a single home. Some of these tend to go hand-in-hand. And while this is not a complete or perfect guide to the signs of abuse or neglect, it should help raise your awareness.
While not every child who exhibits one or more of these signs has been emotionally abused, these are some of the signs that be a result of emotional abuse.
A child who has been a victim of emotional abuse may have speech disorders, frequent stomach/headaches or unexplained weight fluctuations, lag of physical development, non-organic failure to thrive, learning problems.
They may often exhibit behaviors not typical of their age such as thumb sucking, biting. head banging or rocking. They may have more extreme behaviors such as over compliance, passivity, withdraw or aggression. They may have delays, either intellectually or developmentally.
Kids are kids & sometimes they get hurt. Beginning to walk, rough play or plain old accidents…they happen! So how can you tell if physical abuse is happening?
For one, the accident will be age appropriate. This means that a child who is 3 months cannot fall on their face because the cannot even sit up. Secondly, be aware of the placement of the injury, especially in relation to the explanation.
Lastly, take note of if these accidents are reoccurring. While some kids just have a propensity to be clumsy or more active, take note if an more suspicious injuries take place frequently. A combination of all of these factor tend to add up when abuse is happening.
A student may miss school frequently & come back with an injury that is almost healed. A child may often wear weather inappropriate clothes often, in an attempt of injuries to be hidden.
A child who has been a victim of sexual abuse may often seem afraid of physical contact. They may have detailed and age-inappropriate understanding of sexual behavior. They may get pregnant or contact a sexually transmitted disease. They may have difficulty sitting or stand or have torn or bloody clothes with bruising. They may have bleeding or itching in the genital area. They may develop an eating disorder or have a sudden drop in school performance. They may act out or self-harm. This abuse can be harder to spot but a child may even report the sexual abuse themselves ad it is important to listen!
Physical neglect is failure to provide the basic necessities for a child when the resources are present. This includes abandonment & lack of proper supervision. Leaving a child to do things that a child is not of proper age to do by themselves, failure to provide a child with food or clothes when the resources are present. This does not apply to impoverished families who lack proper resources as parents to provide for their children. A child may be constantly hungry, often begging or stealing food. They often lack good hygiene or have unattended physical problems. They may stay at school longer or complain of an absent care-taker. This often is coupled with parents who are involved with illegal activities or are struggling with an addiction of some sort.
Medical neglect is very similar to physical neglect but on the healthcare side of a child’s needs. Medical neglect is a failure to provide the basic necessities for a child’s health, in relation to healthcare, when the resources are present. This can include a lack of medical/dental. This does not apply to impoverished families who lack proper resources as parents to provide for their children. This is also often is coupled with parents who are involved with illegal activities or are struggling with an addiction of some sort.
Mandated reporters are just about anyone with professional contact with a child to include but not limited to: medical personnel, education personnel, child daycare providers, law enforcement, athletic coaches/directors, adult employees of day camps, youth centers and youth recreation programs.
When making a report to social services about suspected child abuse, you can remain anonymous, even as a mandated reporter. However, mandated reporters should strongly consider giving their information to be informed of the progress of the situation and be able to offer additional information is needed or be available if needed to testify in court.
Virginia law provides protection against criminal and civil liability of a reporter and protection to any person participating in a judicial proceeding that resulted in a child being taken into immediate custody unless it is proven that the reporter acted with malicious intent. (Section 63.2-1512)
What happens if I do not report?
There are also fine penalties of $500+ for a mandated reporter to NOT report within 24 hours of suspicion of abuse/neglect. But more importantly, there could be a child that is living through days, weeks or years of more ongoing neglect or abuse because you (as an adult) were afraid. If your gut is telling you that a child could be in danger, why would you not try to stand in the gap for them?
How do I make a report?
In the state of Virginia, you can call the child abuse hotline at 1-800-552-7096. If you are in another state, you can look up the number for your state or even call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453. As stated earlier, you may remain anonymous and it is not your job to make the case. It is only your duty to make the report & do your best to help protect children who cannot protect themselves.
Please note that there is more detailed literature such as this link to the definitions of child abuse & neglect manual on the Virginia Department of Social Services website. If you should suspect a child is being abused or neglected, I recommend that you read more about signs & definitions of that particular situation.