If you suspect a child is being abused or a child has told you he/she is being maltreated, take action by reporting your concerns to the proper authorities. You may save a life—and the earlier maltreatment is reported, the better the chance for recovery and treatment for the child (and perhaps the family).
There are numerous local, state, tribal, and national resources available in the United States. If you are unsure where to turn, Childhelp® is a national organization that provides crisis assistance and other counseling and referral services. Staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you can call 1.800.422.4453 to talk with professional counselors who can put you in touch with the appropriate services.
In addition, services are available at the local, state, or tribal levels. Visit State/Regional Child Abuse Hotlines for information about child welfare services for your area.
Many people hesitate to intervene because they fear they’re making a mistake, or they do not want to be the one to cause a family to break up. They may fear the parent or caregiver will discover they made a report.
However, the cost of doing nothing is high. Child abuse becomes a cycle. Children who are abused often grow up to abuse others. By reporting child abuse, you may be giving a family the opportunity to break the cycle of abuse. The reporter is not required to provide his or her name unless required for professionally mandated reporters, typically teachers and doctors.
When making a report, be prepared to answer questions as thoroughly as possible. Some of the questions may include the following:
- Reporter name (this is only required for professionally mandated reporters).
- Victim name, possible responsible person, or alleged perpetrator name(s).
- The relationship of the alleged perpetrator to the victim.
- Complete addresses for subjects, including a numbered street address, apartment or lot number, city, state, and zip code and/or directions to their location.
- Telephone numbers, including area code.
- A brief, yet concise, description of the abuse, neglect, abandonment, or exploitation, including physical, mental, or sexual injuries, if any.
- Names of other residents and their relationship to the victim(s), if available.
- A brief description of the victim’s disability or infirmity (required for vulnerable adults).
Sometimes a child will tell an adult they trust about the abuse. If this occurs, it is important to stay calm and be supportive. Avoid denial, shock, or disgust. This can cause a child to shut down. Allow the child to tell what is happening in his or her own words.
Reviewed by Dr. Eva Benmeleh, September 2020
- Reporting child abuse may save the life of a child or even an entire family.
- Children who are abused often grow up to abuse others.
- Reporters of child abuse are not required to give their personal information unless they are professionally mandated reporters, like doctors or teachers.