Do you know where you would go to get help if your child was sexually abused? Do you know what agencies would be involved, or whether you would need to call the police? Finding out these answers ahead of time can make a tremendous difference in how your child’s case is handled if he ever is sexually abused.
Know the legal requirements for reporting.
All 50 states require that professionals who work with children report reasonable suspicions of child abuse. Some states require that anyone with suspicions report it. Information about each state’s requirements is available at www.childwelfare.gov or call the ChildHelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-422-4453.
If you are a professional who works with children (e.g., a teacher, a nurse), there are special procedures and reporting requirements you must follow. Your employer should provide mandated reporting training.
Know the agencies that handle reports of child abuse.
- Two agencies handle most reports of child abuse
- Child Protective Services (in some states this agency has a different name)
- The police
- Some states designate Child Protective Services as the agency that accepts reports of suspected child abuse. Others designate the police. Some do not designate or designate both. Many states have centralized toll-free lines that accepts reports of abuse from the entire state. To find out where to make a report in your state, visit http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/reslist/rl_dsp.cfm?rs_id=5&rate_chno=11-11172 or call the ChildHelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-422-4453.
- If the legal system does not provide adequate protection for a child, call Justice for Children (713-225-4357) or www.jfcadvocacy.org.
What if I’m not sure? Where do I go?
- Child advocacy centers coordinate all the professionals (legal and social services) involved in a case. If you’re unsure about whether to make an official report or just need support, contact a child advocacy center. They will help you evaluate your suspicions. To find one near you, contact National Children’s Alliance at www.nca-online.org or 1-800-239-9950.
- Child Abuse Helplines have staff specifically trained to deal with questions about suspected child sexual abuse. Call Darkness to Light’s helpline, 1-866-FOR-LIGHT to be routed to resources in your own community, or call the ChildHelp USA National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD
- Local Community Agencies, such as local hotlines, United Way offices, or rape crisis centers can often help
- Talk to the child’s parents (as long as they are not the abusers) and provide educational materials, such as the 7 Steps booklet. If the parent seems indifferent or unlikely to take action, call one of the other recommended sources.
These resources can help if you are unsure about whether abuse has occurred, but they do not substitute for making an official report. Remember that you may be a mandated reporter in your state and you may be the only source of protection that the child has.