What to Do If You Suspect Child Abuse or Neglect

Welcome to part 6 of our 9 part series on child abuse and neglect. Today, we will be discussing what you should do if you suspect potential abuse or neglect.  Please see the end of today’s article for a complete listing of articles included in this series.

General Goals

StopChildBefore we jump into the specifics about what to do when you suspect abuse or neglect, there are some overarching goals, or guiding principles, which we should all have when it comes to abuse and neglect, particularly the church. These include:

  • Protecting the child from any further harm
  • Stopping the offender’s abuse
  • Healing the victim’s brokenness
  • Restoring the family (or helping victims to mourn the loss of relationship where this is not possible)

Although there is a legal system and various state agencies set up to deal with issues of abuse and neglect, as the church we cannot and must not forget that our primary goal is ultimate healing and restoration through a relationship with Jesus Christ. The gospel of Christ must guide us in all that we do.

What To Do When You Suspect Abuse or Neglect?

What to do when you suspect abuse or neglect is a very serious thing, and you should have a plan both as an individual and as a church. As an individual, if you suspect abuse or neglect you should:

  • Pray for guidance in how to handle the situation.
  • Document what you have observed that has led to your suspicions. This should be done in writing.
  • Do not approach the child (we will talk later about how to talk to a child who has told you they are being abused or whom you find out has been abused or neglected).
  • Follow your church’s policy on reporting suspected abuse.
  • As an individual who works with kids, you should check your state laws to determine if you are required to report the suspected abuse to authorities or if reporting it to the designated person in your church is sufficient. You can find out more about this in the section of this article on who is required to report suspected abuse and neglect.

Of course, as a church, we should be training our volunteers in the list above, but we also need to have a church wide plan for dealing with instances of suspected abuse or neglect. Once you suspect abuse or neglect, that it not the right time to try to develop a policy for dealing with. Your church generally, and your children’s ministry in particular, should have a policy in place for dealing with suspected abuse and neglect long before you ever encounter it. These policies will vary by church, and based on state law, but the policies should generally:

  • Have a point person at your church (a children’s ministry director, family ministry coordinator or executive pastor) who is the individual ultimately responsible for receiving reports of suspected abuse and reporting those suspicions to the appropriate authorities.
  • Have a clear and easy system of reporting. For example, volunteers should report to the person in charge of the program they are working in, or the church’s “point person” if that leader is not available. Program leaders should report all suspicions to the church’s abuse and neglect “point person.”
  • Stress the need for confidentiality.
  • If the suspected abuse involves a volunteer, or staff, at the church, that person should be immediately removed from working with children pending the resolution of an investigation.
  • Parents should be notified, where appropriate. Note that caution should be used where the suspected abuse or neglect was, or may have been, at the hands of parents.
  • Train your volunteers and staff on the signs of abuse and neglect and the procedure for, and importance of, reporting suspected neglect abuse.
  • Churches should also check with their counsel and/or insurance carrier regarding responsibility for reporting suspicions.

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.

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