Suspicions of child abuse can be a difficult issue to deal with. You may suspect that a child is being abused by a friend or professional, for example, but you may not want to believe it. Making an accusation of abuse against a friend or colleague can be very damaging for relationships. That is why many professionals are actually required by law to report suspected abuse. Anyone that is around children should be aware of signs of abuse, however, and should take steps to help a child that is at risk.
Signs of child abuse
The first step to getting help is recognizing the problem. Each state has its own definitions, but most states recognize four major types of maltreatment:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
Physical abuse is non-accidental physical injuries that can be caused by beating, kicking, shaking, or choking a child. States typically allow parents to apply some level of corporal punishment, and it can be difficult to know the line. Physical abuse is likely, however, when a child has unexplained bruises or seems frightened of adults. Abusive parents often offer unconvincing explanations for their children’s injuries or describe the children in unusually negative terms.
Also Read: How to Avoid Child Abuse?
Other types of mistreatment can be harder to recognize because they rarely cause obvious physical harm. A neglected child will often steal food or money, miss, a lot of schools, and can have dirty or insufficient clothing. A sexually abused child may have difficulty walking or sitting, experience sudden changes in appetite, or refuse to participate in gym. Emotionally abused children can have sudden swings from acting mature to acting infantile and often lack emotional attachment to their parents. Any of these signs may be a warning that action needs to be taken.
Who to call for suspected child abuse
The federal government also supports a Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline that is available 24 hours per day, seven days per week. It is staffed with professional crisis counselors that can listen to your situation, answer any questions you may have, and then connect you with the proper emergency, social service, or support resources. Calls are anonymous so that you can talk through the situation before making an actual report. Counselors can walk you through what will happen after you report to make sure you are prepared for the next steps. The hotline to call is 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).
Also Read: Steps to Protect Children from Abuse
Child advocacy centers
State have child advocacy centers that work with local police and child protective services departments to protect victims of child abuse. Non-abusing parents can take a child to a center to keep the child safe, and the centers will often provide services to help a family even if child abuse is not proven. Investigatory steps in serious cases, like interviewing children and collecting evidence of abuse will often take place in the safe and comforting confines of a child advocacy center. To learn more about these resources visit the National Children’s Advocacy Center’s website.
Also Read: Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse: What You Need to Know
Getting out of an abusive environment
In an emergency, a victim should always call 911. Law enforcement will deal with the immediate threat. Less obvious abuse allegations are going to be addressed by state or local child protective services departments. That means that if you suspect child abuse you need to look up your local officials to make the call. The federal government has tried to make things a little easier by compiling a list of the relevant phone numbers where you can easily find your state’s hotline. Once alerted, child protective services professionals will typically visit the home of the potential victim and review the situation. An alleged abuser may have their child taken away, but it is far more likely that the family will be offered support and the alleged abuse will be monitored for a period of time to make sure the child is safe.