Suspected Child Abuse: What to Do

As a young woman, one of the easiest jobs to get is babysitting. But, what if you suspect the child you are watching has been abused? What should you do?

When I was presented with this scenario, my first response was that I could not imagine being someone who suspected that was happening to a child in my care. But, I know it happens.

First, let’s look at the signs. Sometimes we tend to fear the worst. Before we accuse anyone of wrongdoing, it is important to know the signs. Of course, most of us just assume bruising and/or broken bones that are unexplained or don’t make sense are signs of abuse. However, remember to be careful when judging, because some kids really are more accident prone, and bruise more easily, than others. If you are unsure, ask a trusted adult. A teacher or guidance counselor may be very helpful, as they deal with difficult situations such as these. They are usually trained on what signs to look for and what a child’s behavior and mannerisms may tell you. Be careful to not discuss specific situations with peers, who are generally unexperienced and will be unable to help, and may start rumors that end up being inaccurate.

Remember that not all abuse is physical. Sexual and emotional abuse also affect a child negatively. Abused children are sometimes overly withdrawn, act out to hurt others because they have been hurt, suddenly act shy when they used to be very open, or play sexual games, acting out what’s been done to them. I found a good website (written for teachers on a government website) that may help you decipher whether or not you should alert someone to the situation.

Keep in mind that there is a huge difference between spanking and abuse. Spankings, in general, do not leave bruises. As a parent, a spanking is acceptable to get my child’s attention if I feel as though they could get hurt, or they disobey me (Proverbs 13:24). However, abuse is more than just the controlled discipline of the palm of the hand on a child’s hand or backside. It is also good to remember that just because a parent may “snap” at a child, it does not mean they are abusive. Sometimes parents are busy, have a lot going on, and become impatient. While the parent needs to apologize to the child, don’t mistake that for abuse. Anytime a child tells you they were “hit,” make sure you ask what happened. Sometimes when a child disobeys and is spanked, they say they were “hit.” Before accusing, make sure you get some background information on what happened.

I spoke with a few people just to see what their initial reaction would be and what they thought they would do to remedy the situation. The first response I got was that the person would want to confront the suspected abuser immediately. I strongly advise against this. Accusing someone of abuse is a very serious charge. On top of that, it puts you and the child in harm’s way by letting the parent know that you are aware of the abuse, if there is any. If it is true, they could attack you and/or the child. If it is false, it would forever damage your relationship with the family.

In a situation such as this, I recommend calling your local child protective services. No matter how you know the family or your relation to them, it is important that the family gets help. If you are unsure of how to contact your local CPS, you can check in the government section of the phone book, call a local police precinct and ask for it, or ask a parent or other trusted adult. You can also look it up online through search engines by typing “Children Protective Services” and then adding your state’s name. The greatest part about using CPS is that it allows you to remain anonymous. It will open an investigation, yet keep you from being targeted by the family as the person who alerted authorities. Again, remember that abuse is serious, and so is accusing someone of abuse. If you suspect abuse, don’t hesitate to call, as the child’s safety may be in danger, but never accuse someone of abuse, or call CPS as a joke, or to get back at someone you’re angry with. When you do contact them, they will want to know the specific signs that you are seeing. Make sure you are detailed in your description of the alleged abuse and that you let the person know you do not want to be identified.

There are many different outcomes to a situation such as this. It could range from counseling to prison, depending on the severity of the abuse. If both parents are guilty of abuse, the child will usually move in with an extended family member, or with a foster family until their parents receive the help they need in order to be better parents. By alerting someone to the abuse, you are doing the right thing––no matter what the outcome is. Although it will be very hard to do, know that if you don’t seek help for the children, you will always remember the problem and later in life you may wish you would have done things differently. Even if it means that child goes into the state’s care and the parent is disciplined, you just may have saved that child from a lifetime of more abuse, and they will be better off because of it.

Matthew 19:14: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

By Sarah Ancheta

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