Reporting Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect

Welcome to Part 8 of 9 in our series on child abuse and neglect. Today, we will be examining how to report suspected abuse or neglect. Please see the end of today’s article for a complete listing of articles included in this series.

Where to Report Suspected Child Maltreatment

report-child-abuseTo find out who to call in your state, visit the State Child Abuse Reporting Numbers page at the Child Welfare Information Gateway. The Child Welfare Information Gateway also includes a listing of Toll-Free Crisis Hotline Numbers that you should keep on file.

You can also contact Childhelp®. Childhelp® is a national organization providing crisis assistance and other counseling and referral services. The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with professional crisis counselors who have access to a database of 55,000 emergency, social service, and support resources. All calls are anonymous. Contact them at 1.800.4.A.CHILD (1.800.422.4453).

Who is Required to Report Suspected Abuse?

While anyone who suspects abuse is allowed and encouraged to report it, most states have mandatory reporting laws for certain professionals. Many states include:

  • Social Workers
  • Teachers and other school personnel
  • Physicians and other health care workers
  • Mental health professionals
  • Child care providers
  • Medical examiners and coroners
  • Law enforcement officers

Selected states also include:

  • Commercial film or photograph processors (11 states)
  • Substance abuse counselors (14 states)
  • Probation and parole officers (17 states)
  • Domestic violence workers (7 states)
  • Animal control or humane officers (7 states)
  • Members of the clergy (26 states)

Additionally, there are 18 states (plus Puerto Rico) where anyone suspecting abuse is required to report it. These states include Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

Some states allow for anonymous reports while many states require that mandatory reporters include their name in the report. For more information on the specific laws of your state, please visit the State Statutes Search website from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Setting Straight Some Common Fears About Reporting

Some people fear reporting child abuse for any number of reasons. Some of the more common fears, as well as information to set the record straight about those fears, are:

I don’t want to get involved in someone else’s family business. You need to remember that the effects of abuse last a lifetime. Your involvement can help to break the cycle of abuse which all too often passes from one generation to the next. Jesus calls us to care “for the least of these.” Don’t let your uncomfortableness with the current situation or fears about getting involved stand in the way of doing what is right. As a society, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to abuse and neglect.

What if my report breaks up their home? Not every report made to state and local authorities results in children being taken out of the home. Professional agencies offer several other avenues such as parenting classes and anger management that can help an abuser to stop the abuse. In the case of severe abuse or neglect, breaking up the home may be necessary, but you can rest comfortably knowing that it was in the best interest of the child.

The abuser will know it was me who called. In most states, abuse and neglect can be reported anonymously. While this fear is understandable, I would ask you to stop for a second and reflect on the fact that you are afraid of the abuser. Imagine how much more frightened a child who has no means of protecting themselves must feel.

It won’t make a difference. If you suspect mistreatment, it is better for the sake of the child to be safe than sorry. Your action could be the one that saves a child. If you suspect and report abuse, you will have done your part to try to put an end to the cycle.

Here at Divorce Ministry 4 Kids, we feel that the issue of child abuse and neglect is serious enough to warrant dedicating an entire month to. We hope that you will read all of the articles so that you, and those in your children’s ministry, will be better prepared to deal with this issue which is all too prevalent and disproportionately affects children of divorce and children from single-parent homes. The series includes the following articles:

  1. Divorce, Single Parenting and the Increased Risk of Child Abuse and Neglect – An Introduction [09/19/2011]
  2. What is Child Abuse and Neglect? [09/21/2011]
  3. Introduction to the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect [09/26/2011]
  4. Risks of Child Abuse and Neglect Based on Family Structure [09/28/2011]
  5. Recognizing Signs of Potential Child Abuse and Neglect [10/03/2011]
  6. What to Do If You Suspect Child Abuse or Neglect [10/05/2011]
  7. How to Talk to an Abused or Neglected Child [10/10/2011]
  8. Reporting Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect [10/12/2011]
  9. Sources of Additional Information on Child Abuse and Neglect [10/17/2011]
  10. Appendix A – Sample Policy for Reporting Suspected Abuse and Neglect [10/19/2011]

A pdf file will be posted at the end of the series including information from all nine articles in one comprehensive, not-so-brief, but easy to use format. For those of you who have expertise in this area, or have dealt with abuse and neglect situations in the past, we hope that you will join the conversation by adding your voice to the series through comments on the articles or on our Facebook Page.