How Can I Recognize Child Abuse?
Child abuse includes physical abuse, physical neglect, sexual abuse and emotional abuse of a child under 18 years of age by a parent (or other caretaker).
Physical Abuse is a non-accidental injury to a child by a parent or caretaker. You may see frequent and unexplained bruises, burns, cuts, injuries; the child may be overly afraid of the parent's reaction to misbehavior.
Physical Neglect is a parent's failure to give the child food, clothing, hygiene, medical care, supervision. You may see a very young child routinely left alone at home for long periods of time. You may know that a severe illness or injury is not being medically treated. A neighborhood child may frequently turn up at your door - inadequately dressed for the weather - saying their parent told them to stay away. Physical neglect is hard to judge; sometimes what you see is simply poor judgment, but not neglect. Sometimes what you see is the result of poverty, not parental neglect.
Sexual Abuse ranges from non-touching offenses, such as exhibitionism, to fondling, intercourse or using the child for pornographic materials. You may see sexual behavior way beyond what is expected for the child's age; a young child might have sudden, unusual difficulty with toilet habits; there may be pain or itching, bruises or bleeding in the genital area. The child might tell you about these problems.
Emotional Abuse includes severe rejection, humiliation and actions intended to produce fear or extreme guilt in a child. You may see a parent who verbally terrorizes the child, who continually and severely criticizes the child, or who fails to express any affection or nurturing.
In short, an abused or neglected child is one whose physical or psychological health or development is harmed by the parents' behavior.
What do I do if a child discloses abuse to me?
The first step is to try to remain calm and believe the child. Particularly in cases of sexual abuse, it is rare that a child will lie. It is more common that a child will disclose, recant, and disclose again at a later time. While you may be shocked and horrified by the allegations made by the child, any facial expressions or outbursts may cause the child to feel ashamed or responsible for the abuse and they may recant. It is not uncommon that your first reaction may be denial, but try to work though this and be open and receptive to the child. The more calm and open you are, the more you will be able to help the child.
You may find yourself particularly conflicted if the alleged perpetrator is someone close to you and your family, but making a report is the first step to getting a child help and enable them to take back their childhood. Keep in mind that perpetrators of sexual abuse are known and trusted by the child’s family in 90% of sexual abuse cases. If your child discloses sexual abuse, be prepared that the perpetrators will probably someone you know and trust. This is because perpetrators are very adept at gaining the trust of both the child and the adults that surround them. By gaining this trust, perpetrators are able to gain access to the child to abuse them and continue abusing them. Be mindful of any adults in the child’s life that may be angling for ample opportunity to spend time alone with them.
What If I Suspect A Child Is Being Abused Or Neglected?
Call the New York State Central Register - the "child abuse reporting hot line" - to make a report. The Hot Line can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, toll-free at 1-800-342-3720.
Why Should I Make A Report?
The reason to make a report is to get help for the child and the family. The New York Central Register (Hot Line) will notify the local Child Protective Services (CPS), which is part of the county Department of Social Services. CPS will investigate and take needed action to protect the child and to help the parent solve problems which are leading to abuse or neglect. For example, the family may be referred to day care or other services to help relieve the pressures of parenthood. CPS might suggest counseling, or participation in a drug or alcohol program or a parenting education program.
Will The Child Be Taken Away From The Home If I Report?
Only if the child is in immediate danger will she or he be taken into "protective custody." Removing the child from the home is not a routine or usual occurrence. Unless the child is in serious danger, the goal is to keep the family together.
Then What Does Happen?
Within 24 hours of receiving a report, CPS begins an investigation. Within 60 days they must determine whether the reported suspicion is "indicated" or "unfounded." "Indicated" means there is evidence that the child has been abused or neglected. If abuse or maltreatment is "indicated," CPS will recommend a plan for the family - to protect the child and to help the parents solve problems which are leading to abuse or neglect.
Should I Be Certain? What If I Make A Mistake?
You need to have a reasonable suspicion of child abuse, not to prove it or be absolutely certain. You might be mistaken, but it is better to err on the side of the child. Not reporting your suspicions may mean that abuse will continue. If you make a report in good faith, you are immune from civil or criminal liability.
Will My Name Be Confidential? Do I Have To Give My Name?
Reports may be made anonymously. Although you don't have to give your name, we recommend that you do so. The CPS caseworker who will investigate the situation is not the same person - or even the same office - that takes your report. The caseworker may want to talk to you, for additional information or clarification. Giving your name will assure that the worker can contact you, and that important information will not be forgotten or lost. Your name will be kept confidential. By law, CPS may not release identifying information about the person who made the report to the family who was reported.
How Will I Know What Happens After I Make A Report?
In fact, you may not know, except by seeing changes in the child and family. Our laws require CPS to work under very strict confidentiality rules, for the protection of everybody involved. The workers cannot share information about the report. You can be assured that if the Hot Line took your report, CPS is investigating the situation. The law requires that all reports received by the Hot Line must be investigated. If you think the situation has not changed, or if you know of another incident of abuse or neglect, you may - and should - make another report to the Hot Line.
What Else Can I Do If I Think That A Parent I Know Is Abusing Or Neglecting A Child?
You can let the parent know that you are concerned about her or him. Realize the parent may be under stress, feeling lonely and isolated or inadequate as a parent. Offer your support. For example, give her or him a break by taking care of the child for awhile. Encourage the parent to seek other help. For example, encourage a parent who is having difficulty dealing with their child to attend a parenting class or support group. To find out about local parenting programs, you or the parent can call the Parent Helpline at 1-800-342-PIRC (1-800-342-7472).
What If I See A Child Being Mistreated In A Public Place?
First of all, don't give the parent dirty looks or make snide remarks. That would increase the parent's anger and make things worse. There are positive, supportive things you can say and do. For example, "It looks as if it's been a long day for both of you" . . . "Children can wear you out, can't they? Is there something I can do to help?" Strike up a conversation with the adult; see if you can direct the parent's attention away from the child. Praise the child and parent at the first opportunity.
How Can I Find Out More About Child Abuse And Neglect?
For information about child abuse and neglect, for referrals to local organizations that help parents and children and that work to prevent child abuse, and to find out what you can do to prevent child abuse, call the Prevention Information Resource Center (PIRC). PIRC can be called from anywhere in New York State, toll-free, 24 hours a day. (An answering service will relay your call to staff during nights and weekends) Call 1-800-342-PIRC (7472).
To Report Suspected Child Abuse Or Neglect Call 1-800-342-3720
For information and referrals to:
- Parent Education and Support Programs
- Services for Parents Under Stress
- Services for Abused Children and Adult Survivors of Abuse
- Local Child Abuse Prevention Programs
- New York's Child Protective System
- Child Abuse and Neglect