Some people who hear stories about abuse wonder why no one knew, why nothing was done. Officials can’t just peep in on everyone’s life to see if abuse is happening, they can only investigate if they have enough cause. If reports come in about suspected abuse, they will look into it. If enough reports come in, the will take a more serious look into it as often abuse is hidden. Many people are reluctant to report suspected abuse because they are afraid they are wrong and are causing the family trouble or that it’s none of their business.
In Canada, it is the duty of ANYONE who suspects or knows about any kind of child abuse, to report it to the proper authorities (Children’s Aid Society or Family and Child Services).
“23 (1) Every person who has information, whether or not it is confidential or privileged, indicating that a child is in need of protective services shall forthwith report that information to an agency.” – Child and Family Services Act.
In the US it’s a little more complicated. Most states require certain professions that work with children to report and some states also require that anyone who suspects reports it.
“In approximately 18 States and Puerto Rico, any person who suspects child abuse or neglect is required to report. Of these 18 States, 16 States and Puerto Rico specify certain professionals who must report but also require all persons to report suspected abuse or neglect, regardless of profession.6 New Jersey and Wyoming require all persons to report without specifying any professions. In all other States, territories, and the District of Columbia, any person is permitted to report. These voluntary reporters of abuse are often referred to as "permissive reporters.” – Childwelfare.gov.
Whether it’s the law or not, everyone should be reporting suspected abuse, ESPECIALLY those who work with children regularly. As a Girl Guide Leader I was given information on that duty and how to go about it and I have reported suspected abuse once.
Know the Signs of Abuse
You won’t know what to report if you don’t.
You Don’t Need Proof
You just need Reasonable Grounds.
“Reasonable grounds are what an average person, given his or her training, background and experience, exercising normal and honest judgment, would suspect.” – source
They don’t go bust down the door of the family every time a report comes in. If you report a suspicion but without anything concrete, they will make note of it so that if anyone else reports something, then they will know that more than one person is seeing something wrong and take it more seriously.
If an adult suspects abuse, they must make the call personally. This is not a time to delegate.
Call Each Time
If you’ve made the call and suspect something again, call again. A separate call should be made each time something suspicious happens. As I said, the more calls they get, the more serious they will take it.
If a child discloses abuse to you, do NOT promise that you will keep it a secret. This is hard but keeping the secret is allowing the abuse to happen. You don’t want to lie to the child either or you will lose his or her trust and they won’t feel comfortable confiding in you again. Explain that good secrets are to be kept, bad secrets are not. That they should not have been asked to keep it a secret and that you must tell someone but that you will tell someone who can help.
In the Event of a Disclosure
If a child is disclosing abuse, believe the child (do NOT ask are you sure?), stay calm and do not ask for details, you are not the investigator. Reassure them (not that it will be okay or that you will keep it secret but that you will try to get them the best help you can so they will be safe.)
If we want to institute change in the safety of our children we need to be smart and brave and do what’s right.
In the US:
In US and Canada:
Call for info on signs of abuse, who/where to call to report abuse, what to expect when you do report abuse, want resources, need emotional support as a abuse survivor and more.
Kathleen Garber is a former babysitter, mother, Girl Guide leader and playgroup enthusiast so she works with children a lot. She blogs about parenting and family life at Callista’s Ramblings and books at SMS Nonfiction Book Reviews and runs a blogathon for bloggers at Biannual Blogathon Bash.