Steps on How to Report Abuse
Tragically, in the United States alone, over 7.8 million children were reported as receiving abuse and only 3.3 million of those children received prevention and treatment post-abuse in 2018. Every child deserves a supportive and healthy upbringing and we have the power to say something when we become aware of dangerous situations. If you suspect that a child is at-risk, it is critical to report this information and get that child the help they need. If you’re not sure where to start or how to report suspected abuse, look no further. Read on for a list of steps that outline how to report abuse.
What Is Considered Abuse?
When making a report, it is important to know what exactly is considered abuse. Oftentimes, people don’t recognize when abuse is happening, either directly or indirectly, because they are unsure of what to look for. Here are the different types of child abuse you should be aware of:
- Emotional abuse – any words or actions that aim to damage an individual’s self-worth, self-image, self-confidence, or mental wellness (name-calling, neglect, gaslighting).
- Signs to look for: Emotional withdrawal, easily agitated, nervousness
- Cultural abuse – any intentional use of an individual’s identity to instill hurt or suffering (racial slurs, denying faith, language mocking).
- Signs to look for: Social withdrawal, unusual behavior, change in personal interests
- Physical abuse – any form of intentional bodily injury, trauma, or discomfort caused by another individual (hitting, physical roughness, withholding food)
- Signs to look for: Marks on skin, open wounds, sudden change in behavior
- Sexual abuse – any forced sexual act of any degree upon another individual (innappropriate touch, sexual photography, rape).
- Signs to look for: Bruised genital area, torn or stained underwear, unexplained genital bleeding or discomfort
Each type of abuse listed above holds equal weight in the emotional distress it can cause a child (social withdrawal, heightened fear of adults, mistrust are a few examples). Having an understanding of what abuse entails and how it occurs on a day to day basis is an important first step to making a report.
How to Report Abuse
Any occupation that works directly with children is required to be mandated reporters. This means that if you suspect a child is in any harm, you are legally obligated to report the suspected abuse. However, you do not have to be a mandated reporter to make a report of child abuse. Here are the best ways to make a report:
#1 Call the Child Abuse Hotline
In order to do this, look up the city or county that the child is in and call the child abuse hotline for that specific area. With a 24-hour on call hotline staff, you can guarantee that you will be able to get a hold of someone as soon as possible. Once the case is reported and risk is determined, a social worker will be assigned to further investigate the situation. Additionally, most states allow anonymous reports, however, the cases naturally remain anonymous to the abuser to protect the reporters identity.
If you are having trouble finding a specific city’s information, you can also call the national child abuse hotline phone number: 1(800)4-A-CHILD. Here, you can reach someone 24/7 who will give you the resources to further take action on reporting abuse. LA’s Department of Child and Family Services also recommends reporting abuse through the Child Abuse Reporting Electronic System (CARES).
#2 Contact the Nearest Police Station
Another way to report child abuse is to directly contact your local police station. Similar to the child abuse hotline, the police station will create a report and send an officer out if there is immediate danger to the child. If you feel that the child is in a dire situation, 911 is the best option as they can send someone to the home much quicker than Child Protective Services (CPS), especially in the middle of the night.
I Know How to Report, Now What?
Now that you know how to successfully report child abuse, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, consider keeping in touch with the social worker assigned to the case. As you may have more information that comes up, it will be helpful in furthering the investigation and bringing the child to safety.
Another great way to keep tabs on the case is to organize all of the information you have collected. In a safe place, consider keeping a notepad with any signs of abuse or emotional distress that you see in the child, both physically and emotionally. Be sure to report any new instances to CPS, the social worker, or the police station.
Lastly, help the child get treatment to heal for their emotional or physical trauma. We have a list of resources on how to heal from emotional abuse as a child. If you’re not sure where to start, Children’s Bureau provides a wide range of counseling services and mental health resources for children 0-21. With prevention services and customized treatment for each child, Children’s Bureau works to prevent child abuse while helping children reach their full potential by working through past and present trauma.
No matter how you decide to help a child in need, reporting any type of abuse is the first step to bettering their lives.
Susan J. Wood, Former Director of Mental Health
Susan J. Wood, LMFT was the Director of Mental Health at Children’s Bureau and hasover 20 years of experience working with children in a community mental health setting. She joined Children’s Bureau in 2015 as a Program Manager in the Antelope Valley and became the program director in June 2018 where she was instrumental in opening and expanding mental health services to the Santa Clarita Valley and Long Beach.