Learn how to spot signs of potential abuse and report it to the proper authorities.
The recent news out of Penn State University has no doubt opened up many old wounds for the victims of the incident. Many of these victims are grown now and had, up until now, found a way to ignore the horrendous abuse of their past. In addition to the victims, this story has also opened up the wounds of other child abuse victims and has created a dialogue about the presence of it in America.
The story out of University Park, Pennsylvania, may seem so unbelievable and isolated from reality, but the unfortunate truth is that more than three million reports of child abuse and neglect will be filed this year in the United States, according to ChildrensRights.org. Sadly, most of these reports will go uninvestigated due to a lack of evidence, and like Penn State, some incidences will be ignored altogether until the victims are grown men and women.
As an adult, it is your responsibility to report any suspected abuse or neglect, no matter how awkward the situation may make you feel. Most children lack the ability to find and contact the proper authorities about their abuse. For this reason, if you suspect any abuse or neglect, you should take it upon yourself to report the incident.
Child abuse can be difficult to detect, but there are signs that can be easily identified. If you suspect abuse or neglect, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the child seem fearful, anxious or unattached to the suspected abuser (parent, guardian or mentor)? This is one of the best ways to detect abuse or neglect. If a child does not express an interest in going home at the end of the school day or going to practice after school, ask them what about this they do not like.
- Does the child often have bruises, welts, cuts or other injuries with no explanation? Do the injuries have a pattern like from a belt or hand? Sometimes this can be difficult to notice, as most clothing items will cover the injury. Not to mention, most school-age children (especially boys) get bruises everyday on the playground. However, if the injury looks questionable, ask the child if they are OK and how it happened.
- Is the child’s hygiene subpar? It is important to remember that poor hygiene does not necessarily mean the child is being neglected. It could be a product of the parent’s own personal poor hygiene or economic situation. If the child’s standard of hygiene is affecting their well-being, however, it is neglect.
- Does the child have a history of running away from home, or are they skipping an after school activity that they used to enjoy? Sometimes a runaway child is just a stubborn child who returns home after an hour. However, if the child must be forced to go back home, it could be a sign of abuse. Also, if the parent seems unconcerned about their child leaving home for hours on end unattended, this could mean they aren’t worried for their safety, suggesting neglect. In addition, if the child has lost interest in an after school activity they once loved, ask them why. It could mean a change in interests, or it could mean potential abuse or bullying.
- Is this child absent from school on a regular basis? Children who are regularly absent from school with no excuse often have parents who are indifferent in regards to their child’s performance in school. Not caring if your child attends school is neglect, and teachers and administrators must act quickly to rectify this situation.
If you are a teacher, mentor or friend who suspects abuse or neglect from a parent, first make sure you have sufficient evidence to back up your report. For instance, if the child has a few scrapes on his or her knee, this does not suggest abuse. However, if the child consistently has welts and large bruises, this does suggest abuse. And, of course, if you see abuse happen with your own eyes, report it immediately to Child Protective Services. If you work with children, it is a part of your job to look out for abuse or neglect and immediately report it.
If you are a parent, it is best to form a close relationship with your child’s teachers, coaches and mentors, always keeping a close eye on how they treat your child. It is also important to talk to your children about abuse from other adults, reiterating the importance of reporting any incidences to you. Keep in mind, however, that you should be careful how you define abuse to your child, as you do not want them to think the mentor is abusing them when they are simply disciplining them. If serious abuse is suspected, contact your local police department.
What happened at Penn State is an ugly reminder that child abuse can and does happen anywhere at any socioeconomic level. However, if we truly care about the treatment of children, we will do our part to spot and report any suspected incidences of abuse or neglect. To learn more about child neglect and abuse, click here.