When to Report Child Abuse
Reporting child abuse of any kind is certainly a difficult topic. Identifying what passes for abuse can be an even harder one. I have heard stories in the past where a care giver was unsure if what they were seeing constituted “abuse”, so the abuse went unreported. Another reason why abuse may go unreported, is because a family may be trying to protect the perpetrator who happens to be another family member.
Understanding why its important to advocate for children, especially in abuse situations will be helpful in reframing your views on reporting child abuse and child advocacy. Children often lack the ability to advocate for themselves due to emotional and psychological development. When abuse happens in a child’s life it interrupts their emotional and cognitive development. Children are often placed in situations and scenarios they don’t understand, because a parent or caregiver forced them there and by forced, I mean did not factor in their opinion on the matter. Abuse in a child’s life leads to a higher probability that they will have anxiety, depression and possibly other psychiatric symptoms. So understanding that children are unable to advocate for themselves in ways that adults are, should help in changing your perspective on early reporting.
Secondly, understand that when you report you are being protective and preemptive. You are saying, “No” I will not allow this child to be abused anymore” and you then are stepping between the child and perpetrator and helping to prevent future abuse. I understand that many think and believe that if you report abuse to CPS, they will come and take the children away. CPS looks at every case individually. They examine the severity of the abuse, the duration, the type of abuse, the age of those involved, how long people knew the abuse was occurring, etc. CPS wants to make sure that the child is being protected from those who seek to use and abuse them to meet their needs. That is why they exist.
Third, it’s important to understand the different types of abuse that are looked at. According to the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services there are 6 major areas of child abuse and neglect:
You and your kid may not have experienced the above situations, but there are situations that cause parents to ask, “Is this abuse?” and “Should I report it?” I understand your hesitation, especially when the behavior that may be considered abuse is not black and white and doesn’t fit the above definitions. Ask a mental health professional. Take a course in understanding abuse and the signs of abuse. Call CPS and report what you know or suspect. By reporting early, you are ensuring that the child will no longer undergo further abuse, you are advocating for the child’s development emotionally and cognitively and you are helping to potentially decrease the possibility of the child having severe mental health issues later in life.
The bottom line is child abuse is destructive. Children can’t advocate for themselves. Reporting is important. Do not be the person that protects the abuser at the cost of the child.
Early reporting helps the abused and it helps the abuser.
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Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
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