contributed by Mary L. Pulido, Ph.D.
See something? Hear something? Please, do something.
This is not an alert warning about a strange package on a subway platform; it is an alert for another type of terror: the abuse and neglect of children. It is everyone’s job to protect children, not just the local authorities. During the pandemic, teachers have played an important role in keeping tabs on the safety of children through virtual classes and in person, when safety permits.
Although the age of social media has dramatically lowered the threshold on privacy standards, many adults are still reticent about reporting their suspicions about child abuse and neglect. How many times do we hear on the news, “I knew something was wrong, but I never thought he’d hurt the child” or “They are always fighting in that house, but I was afraid to get involved, didn’t know if they would turn on me.”
This type of ‘bystander’ behavior is far too common. I’m urging everyone to take the steps needed to protect children. Go with your gut, as we hear all too often in reporting other types of dangerous situations—if something is making you suspicious or uneasy, it’s worth reporting.
When authorities are notified that a child may be in danger, the children and their parents can get the help that they need to prevent future abuse or neglect and strengthen their family unit. It can mean the difference between life and death for newborns and children under the age of four, when most fatalities occur.
How Teachers Can Protect Children From Child Abuse During Remote Learning: 5 Tips
While teaching virtually, teachers have a unique opportunity to get a glimpse into another aspect of their students’ lives by having the ability to see into their homes. Here are a few items to keep in mind that could help protect children and for observing for signs of child abuse and/or neglect:
- Let children know that they could use the chat function to communicate with you if something in their home is making them uncomfortable/sad/anxious/scared
- Make sure that they have your email or your work phone number that they can call in an emergency
- Encourage them to keep their cameras ‘on’ so that you can see their faces and view their emotions
- When you see the condition of the home, is anything alarming, is the home in disarray? Are there rodents, does the child appear neglected, underfed, exhausted?
- If you see anything that is suspicious, injuries on the child, adults fighting, children left alone, or children watching even younger siblings, make a report.
Steps to Take to Report Child Abuse or Neglect
Even if you are not 100-percent sure about your concerns, you can, and should take steps to help rescue the child. So, what are the steps in making a report? The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC) recommends that all teachers and concerned adults learn the basic steps and take action when necessary.
- If you witness a child being abused or neglected call 911. The police are trained to respond to these sensitive calls, and in doing so you may save a child’s life.
- Every state has a hotline number you can call to make a report if you suspect a child is at risk. Just type the name of your state and child abuse hotline in your web browser and the number will come up. The National Council of Child Abuse and Family Violence has a list for each state. Here is a link to each state’s child abuse reporting number.
- You can also call Childhelp, the national child abuse hotline at -1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)
When you make a report, the police or the state hotline will request information on what you have suspicions about or witnessed. You should mention the age and whereabouts of the child, the person who is perpetrating the abuse, and the nature of the child’s injuries. The official will ask for your name and number, but you can choose to remain anonymous. Even if you are not certain about all the specifics, MAKE THE CALL. It is then up to the investigators to follow a course of action.
If you believe you are witnessing potential abuse, here is a list of signs and symptoms of child abuse and neglect that you should be aware of.
Yes, taking action will probably make you anxious— that is understandable as it is such an important undertaking. Yet, you will rest easier knowing that due to your intervention, the child and his or her parent(s) can get help and attention. Remember, child abuse is preventable. Everyone must be part of the solution; let the solution start with you.
Additional Resources For Helping Prevent Child Abuse
Free online training to learn more about child abuse and neglect.