FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  1. What is child abuse?
    It is repeated mistreatment or neglect of a child by parents(s) or other guardian resulting in physical and/or emotional injury or harm. Sexual assault is child abuse. Child abuse is a crime.  Children need protection because they are vulnerable and often unable to speak for themselves.  State laws provide the legal basis for action to protect children and allow intervention by public agencies if a child is maltreated.
  2. Where does child abuse happen?
    Child abuse can happen anywhere:

    • in poor, middle class and well-to-do homes
    • in any ethnic, cultural, occupational, religious and age groups
    • in the child’s own home or in other locations
    • in rural areas, suburbs, cities
    • can involve one or both parents or any other trusted adult

    Child abuse knows no economic, religious, racial or demographic boundaries.
    Tragically, abuse most often happens at home; usually the abuser is known to the child.

  3. Why do parents/adults abuse children?
    Although studies show that a parent is the most frequent child abuser, other guardians, e.g., parental friend or relatives may also be involved.  Often, abuse is a reaction to past or present problems or stresses the abuser can’t cope with, such as:

    • POOR CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES: Many abusive adults were mistreated themselves as children and develop a poor self-image. This causes a generational cycle of abuse, where children who have been abused often become abusers to their own and/or other children.
    • UNMET EMOTIONAL NEEDS: A parent who does not relate well to other adults may expect children to take care of the parent, satisfy their need for love, protection, self-esteem or other needs.
    • FREQUENT CRISES: Finances, job, legal problems, major illness, etc., can cause a parent to “take it out” on a child.
    • DRUG OR ALCOHOL PROBLEMS: Such problems limit parental ability to care properly for their children.
  4. What are the common signs of child abuse?
    The following symptoms do not, alone, indicate or confirm abuse. If abuse is suspected, an appropriate assessment should be made by a professional.

    • REPEATED INJURIES: Bruises, welts, burns.  Parents may seem unconcerned, deny that anything is wrong, or give unlikely explanations for the injuries.
    • NEGLECTED APPEARANCE: Children appear to be malnourished, inadequately clothed, are left alone or wandering at inappropriate hours (sometimes, though, over-neatness may be a sign of abuse).
    • DISRUPTIVE BEHAVIOR: Very aggressive, argumentative, substance abuse.
    • USUALLY CRITICAL PARENTS/CAREGIVERS: Parents who discipline their children frequently and severely in public and private may abuse when their unrealistic standards are not met.
    • EXTREMELY ISOLATED FAMILIES: Parents who don’t share in school or community activities, seem to resent friendly contacts and appear to be distrustful of people, afraid of their help.

    Use caution and good sense in reporting suspicions of child abuse.  Every parent makes errors in judgement and action at some time, but when it becomes plain that there is a pattern, then it may be time for help.

  5. Why should I get involved?
    For your own sake…and for the family’s sake.  Child abuse is a tragedy that affects us all:

    • SOCIAL BURDEN: permanent mental or physical damage caused by child abuse can rob a person of the ability to be an independent, healthy, productive citizen.
    • LEGAL BURDEN: child and adult crime, delinquency, drug and alcohol addiction, etc., often result when a person has been mistreated.
    • THE ABUSED CHILD AND FAMILY CAN’T HELP THEMSELVES: abuse is a vicious cycle that usually passes from generation to generation.
    • THEY WANT TO BE HELPED AND CAN BE: the great majority of troubled married to abusers or parents of abused children can learn how to be good mothers and fathers, to enjoy their children and help the victim and siblings mature into happy, healthy adults and parents themselves.TO BREAK THE ABUSE CYCLE, THE COMMUNITY…YOU…MUST BECOME AWARE OF THE SERIOUSNESS OF THE PROBLEM AND DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
  6. How troubled families can be helped?
    • DETECTING AND REPORTING: These are vital first steps.  Too often, child abuse goes unreported because people who could help “don’t want to get involved.”
    • IMMEDIATE TREATMENT: Help must be sought immediately for urgent problems, such as physical injury, malnutrition and/or serious neglect.  Children may also need developmental testing or psychiatric assessment.  Parents may need professional help, too, for physical and emotional distress, depression, alcohol abuse and other trauma.etc.
    • SUPPORT SERVICES: Concerned friends, relatives, visiting nurses, homemakers, social workers often are family and lifesavers.  Most abuse incidents are triggered by a crisis in the parent’s life that must be resolved to ease overwhelming tensions.  In some cases all that’s needed is a HELPING HAND…and the knowledge that someone cares.
    • EXTENDED COUNSELING: This is a must for children and parents.  Because abuse develops over a long time, it requires long term professional treatment.  Time is needed to work out family problems and for parents to learn “parenting skills”—the knowledge and ability necessary to raise a child.
  7. How do I know or suspect a child abuse case?
    You have a moral, and in some cases, a legal responsibility to see that child abuse is reported to the people who can help.  By law, you cannot be prosecuted for doing so in good faith.  First, be sure you know the facts…then act.

    • BE A FRIEND:  Often an abusive parent needs someone to talk to for advice and support.  Do your best to offer a sympathetic ear and to suggest services (social, medical, etc.) that can help.
    • CONTACT LOCAL SERVICE AGENCIES:  The Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-540-4000, should be called immediately to report child abuse or neglect.  People, who must report child abuse, often referred to as Mandated Reporters, vary from state to state – usually they include physicians, dentists, police, school counselors, teachers, nurses, etc.
  8. Why should I report child abuse?
    All Children have the right to grow up in a safe environment.  Child abuse, in all its forms, has a more lasting and negative effect on children, families and the whole community than most people realize.At its worst, its destructive impact haunts its victim throughout life and prevents the child from becoming a productive adult.Frequently, parents who were mistreated as children will mistreat their own children.  The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect reports that more than 2,000 children die each year due to abuse or neglect.Reporting child abuse is a first step in stopping the devastating cycle.
  9. What will happen to me if I make a report?
    Anyone who reports known or suspected child abuse is protected by law from civil or criminal liability unless it can be proven that the report was false and that the person who made the report knew it was false.  Any person, except a mandated reporter who reports child abuse may remain anonymous.  Mandated reporters are required to give their names.  However, it is helpful to give your name and telephone number to the worker taking the report in the event he or she needs to obtain more information later.
  10. How do I know when to report child abuse?
    Reporting should be done when a person either knows or has a “reasonable suspicion” that a child has been or is in danger of abuse or neglect.  “Reasonable suspicion” means that most people, given the same facts and information, would suspect child abuse.  Hard proof is not needed to make a report.  However, reports must be in good faith. Use common sense.
  11. What happens after a report is made?
    The social worker or law enforcement officer on duty will speak to the person making the report in order to obtain information about the child.  The kind of information needed includes:

    • what type of abuse has occurred
    • who or what caused the abuse
    • is the child still in danger or in need of medical care

    No two reports are handled in exactly the same way.  Decisions by all the people involved are based on each child’s situation.  Even reports on two children in the same family may be handled differently.

    The agency receiving the report will determine how to proceed based on the information available.  All reports, which describe situations that fall within statutory definitions of abuse/neglect will receive a response.  What the response is and how quickly it will be made, depend on the seriousness of the events reported and the situation the child faces.  Where it appears the child is still in danger, the response will be immediate.  Not all reports are serious enough to require the assistance of a law enforcement agency.  In these cases, the family may be contacted only by the child welfare agency.

    The investigations by the child welfare agency and law enforcement are conducted separately.  The child welfare agency will concern itself with the welfare of the child and family.  Law enforcement will focus on obtaining evidence to determine whether a crime has been committed and by whom.

  12. Does a report mean a child will be taken away?
    NO!  Most reports of child abuse do not result in children being removed from their families.  The first goal is to enable the child to remain safely in his own home.  If this is not possible, the social worker must remove the child from the home and place him/her in a foster home.  If it is necessary in order to protect the child, the child welfare agency also is authorized to arrange emergency, temporary foster care.
  13. How can I help prevent child abuse?
    There are several things you can do about it.  Learn more about child abuse and how it is treated.  Don’t ignore child abuse, REPORT IT!  Be supportive and helpful to families having problems.  If you or your family need help coping with children, ask for it.  Social service agencies are there to help you.
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