Recognizing and reporting child abuse

Maybe you’ve had this experience: you’re watching or reading the news, and you come across a story of a child who has been abused. Perhaps it was by a family member, a coach, or someone from church.

You feel for the child, but at the same time you wonder, how did nobody know about this until now? Surely their mom, their teacher, or some other adult in this child’s life noticed something was wrong?

That’s a pretty common reaction to news of child abuse. One of the things we do in the Oklahoma City community is teach parents and teachers how to recognize the signs of child abuse so they are able to notice when something is wrong, and they’ll know how to react.

Here, I’ll share a bit of what these trusted adults learn in our Recognizing & Reporting Child Abuse training.

Signs and symptoms

Signs of physical abuse include burns or bruises that don’t match up with normal childhood play, injuries after a child has been out of school or daycare for a few days, and frequent injuries that are either unexplained or where the child and parent’s stories don’t line up.

Signs of sexual abuse can include a significant change in either mood or behavior, knowledge of sex acts beyond what’s age-appropriate, and fear of being alone with adults (particularly if they’re afraid of adults of one gender).

Signs of neglect include lack of adequate medical care, often being late or absent from school, and frequently being hungry or asking for extra food. Signs of emotional abuse include destructive or antisocial behavior, physical or developmental delays, and habit disorders.

Children who face abuse at home may be reluctant to go home over school breaks. They might act out or, depending on the child, aim for perfect behavior. What you should look for is a significant change of behavior compared to what’s normal for that child.

What you can do

We often speak with parents and teachers who aren’t aware of this, but any adult who suspects child abuse is legally obligated to report that abuse. We’re all mandatory reporters in Oklahoma.

If a child opens up to you about abuse, believe them. Children very, very rarely make this up. They may open up to you with a partial disclosure, so it’s important to let them know that you are safe to talk to.

Ask open-ended questions so the child can tell you in his or her own words what has been going on. When you call the Child Abuse Hotline, be ready to give as much information as you can: the child’s name, age, address, school, and what you’ve noticed that makes you concerned about abuse. If you suspect that a parent is the perpetrator of the abuse, do not let them know you are calling the hotline. They may coach the child in what to say to minimize or hide the abuse.

The Oklahoma Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-522-3511. But definitely call 911 if you believe the child is in immediate danger.

Because of the new “Erin’s Law” that was recently passed, all school personnel are required to receive training to prevent child abuse. Our Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse training helps schools fulfill this requirement, and we are proud to offer it free of charge to area schools.

If you have questions or would like to bring our Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse training to your school, call our office at 405-232-8226.

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