At Advocates For Children we work to empower children and families to lead healthy and productive lives, so whenever we hear of horrific cases of child abuse we are heartbroken.
We know child abuse happens across socio-economic lines; across racial and ethnic lines and across age and gender. We each have an important role to play in stopping child abuse; if you suspect child abuse please speak up!
Sometimes it takes multiple reports before authorities will open an investigation. It is always advised to report any suspicion, even if the information you have seems insignificant; sometimes all that is needed to open an investigation is one final piece to the puzzle. It is not your job to prove abuse is happening, only to provide details and information for why you suspect abuse is happening.
Warning Signs of Child Abuse
THINGS TO LOOK FOR
Babies: marks on the skin and injuries in babies not yet walking, like bruises or fractures, can forecast more severe abuse. Even babies who are crawling and walking will not bruise (or fracture) easily on their own. Bruising in places that are inconsistent with a fall (such as on their stomach, neck, top of head) should be cause for concern.
Preschool and School-Age Children: Sudden unexplained changes, such as decreased self-esteem, anxiety or depression. Children who have knowledge about topics that are too mature for the child’s age (such as sexual information) or behavior that is too mature for the child’s age (such as extremely aggressive behavior); animal abuse by a child or caregiver usually correlates with child abuse.
Other things to look for are bruising on both arms or legs or both sides of the face. Marks that show a pattern of a hand or a belt; adult bite marks or burns. Bruises, welts, fractures or other injuries that can’t be explained or don’t match with the child or caregiver’s story are always a red flag.
Reporting Suspected Child Abuse
MAKING A REPORT
The number to report child abuse in Maine: 1-800-452-1999
Some information that is needed:
- Name, address & phone number of child’s custodial parents and directions to the home. It is important to have a physical address for the family so that DHHS staff can locate the family for assessment. If they have directions as well as a description of the outside of the home such as “a white Cape with black trim and a two-car garage attached” it can be very helpful when houses are not marked clearly with address numbers.
- Names & relationships of other adults in the home. It is important for DHHS to know who is in the home and who is caring for the children.
- Children’s names and ages. It is always best to have as much identifying information as possible (first and last names, dates of birth, spelling of non-traditional names, etc), however there are times when reporters will know only first names and approximate ages. Lack of information should not be a deterrent to reporting.
- Information on any out-of-home parents. If you know who the out-of-home parent is and/or where s/he is, please share the information. If DHHS assesses the family, it is an assessment of the ENTIRE family. This includes mother, father, children and any other caregivers for the children.
- Alleged abuse/neglect (be as specific as possible).
- Any actions you have taken or intend to take. For instance, if a child has made a disclosure to you about abuse by the out-of-home father and you intend to call the custodial mother to inform her of the disclosure, please let DHHS know. This helps to inform decisions regarding intervention.
- Intake staff will ask additional questions about school, employment, child care, mental health or substance abuse issues, domestic violence, service providers involved with the family and relative resources for the child. DHHS uses the information requested to develop a broad understanding of the family situation as it impacts child safety.
Preventing Child Abuse & Neglect
IF YOU ARE THE PARENT:
• Take care of yourself. When the big and little problems of everyday life pile up to the point you feel overwhelmed and out of control – take time out, reach out to a trusted friend or find local resources such as your local Child Abuse and Neglect (CAN) Council which can be found at www.mechildrenstrust.org
• Ask for help. It’s okay to ask for help. Reach out to friends or local organizations, use your social networks for advice and support. Sometimes just letting people know “I’m having a tough time today” is enough to reduce the stress a bit and help things feel more manageable.
• Be a nurturing parent. Abuse is not just physical. Both words and actions can inflict deep, lasting wounds. Use your actions to show children and other adults that conflicts can be settled without hitting or yelling.
• Teach children their rights. When children are taught they are special and have the right to be safe, they are less likely to think abuse is their fault, and more likely to report an offender.
IF YOU ARE NOT THE PARENT:
• Help a friend, neighbor or relative. Being a parent isn’t easy. Offer a helping hand, offer to take care of the children for a brief period, so the parent(s) can rest or spend time together, let them know you realize it can be hard and that help is available for a variety of sources and resources.
• Educate yourself and others. Simple support for children and parents can be the best way to prevent child abuse. After-school activities, parent education classes, mentoring programs, and respite care are some of the many ways to keep children safe from harm. Be a voice in support of these efforts in your community.
• Report suspected abuse or neglect. If you have reason to believe a child has been or may be harmed, call the Office of Children and Family Services at 1-800-452-1999 or your local police department. You do not need to show proof.
IF YOU ARE A COMMUNITY MEMBER:
• Invest in kids. Encourage leaders in the community to be supportive of children and families. Ask employers to provide family-friendly work environments.
• Support prevention programs. Too often, intervention occurs only after abuse is reported. Greater investments are needed in evidence-based/informed programs that have been proven to stop the abuse before it occurs.
• Know what child abuse is. Physical and sexual abuse clearly constitute maltreatment, but so does neglect, or the failure of parents or other caregivers to provide a child with needed food, clothing, and care. Children can also be emotionally abused when they are rejected, berated, or continuously isolated.