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Frequently Asked Questions

How prevalent is Child Abuse/Neglect?
There has been a 331% increase in the US rate of child abuse and neglect reports from 1976 to 1996. That statistic indicates that more and more Americans are advocating for children by reporting suspected abuse cases to local and state agencies designed to intervene and protect. Many of these agencies would be unable to act if it were not for a concerned citizen taking that first step toward protecting a child who might be in danger.If you suspect a child is being abused, perhaps we can answer some of the most commonly asked questions you might have about reporting.

Do I need proof the child is being abused/neglected?
No. "Reasonable suspicion" is all that is needed to report abuse/neglect in any US state. That may come from your first-hand observation or something a child may have told you.

To whom do I make the report?
In most states, reports are made to local child protection agencies which may be called Social Services, Children and Family Services, Child Protective Services, Human Welfare Services, etc. Check your local phone book or ask information services for the agency in your area responsible for protecting children. If it is an emergency situation, the local police should be notified.

What happens when I make a report?
The person taking the report from you needs as much information as possible so that the situation can be addressed as quickly and as competently as possible. Although most states permit anonymous reporting, it is often the least effective method because the investigative team can not go back to the referring person to collaborate information. Sometimes, that may lead to dismissal of charges. Expect to be asked your name, address, phone number, relationship to the victim, reasons for suspecting abuse and the names of other people who might share your concern and be considered witnesses to the abuse or neglect.

Who are these people who investigate abuse/neglect?
People who work for child protective services have a variety of educational backgrounds. Each state has different requirements for their staff. Most workers choose this field because they care about children and families.

Do they remove the offender from the home? How do they decide to do that?
More and more states are developing protocols for removing the offender, rather than the victim. The decision is based on a number of circumstances including the immediate danger to the child, and the motivation, intent and capacity of the alleged perpetrator to hurt the child.

What happens to that family? Do they ever get back together?
Recent laws require child welfare workers to make all "reasonable efforts" to get families back together again. Sometimes, children are placed in temporary foster care. Other times, the offender may be required to receive therapy or to serve a period of time incarcerated. The eventual goal is always to restore the family if it is feasible to all concerned.

If I report, will I find out what happens to the child?
You may not. In some states, confidentiality laws prevent child welfare workers from sharing information and outcome with those who report. In some, only professionals who might work with the child are given access to information regarding the referral. Persistent requests may be necessary to discover the outcome of your report. However, most social service agencies will tell you whether or not a case was opened based on your report. That usually indicates that the information you provided was credible.

What happens if a case is not substantiated?
Approximately 33% of the cases reported nationally are substantiated. The criteria for substantiation vary greatly from state to state and there is no uniform system for case reporting. However, it should be strongly stressed that because a case is unsubstantiated does not necessarily mean the facts were not accurate. The primary reason for unsubstantiated reports is lack of important information about the child, family or the suspected abuse. People everywhere should be encouraged to report any suspicions of abuse or neglect. There are 60 million children in this country. We all have the responsibility to protect them.

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