The child had several bruises on his arms. He no longer smiled and waved at his neighbor. The easy going child had gradually changed before his neighbor’s eyes into someone who was irritable and cried easily.
The neighbor suspected there was something going on but was not sure what to do. After all, it wasn’t her business what a family does in their own home. Still, she couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that something should be done.
What the neighbor in this situation is witnessing is the after effects of child abuse. The effects on children’s functioning after suffering from abuse or neglect can be significant and continue to linger on into adulthood. Some long term effects of child abuse can include emotional problems, cognitive difficulties, struggles with social relationships, and issues with alcohol and drug abuse.
One factor that can impact the effects of child abuse or neglect is how long it has occurred. This is where reporting suspected abuse or neglect can make a meaningful difference for the child. If the abuse is caught early, children are less likely to suffer and experience less severe long term outcomes.
The key is to be able to spot abuse or neglect when it is happening and to know where to report it. Spotting child abuse can be difficult as abuse can occur in a variety of ways. These include neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. While there is no one specific sign to indicate abuse, there are some general signs that may signal the presence of child abuse or neglect, particularly if several are occurring together.
A general sign of abuse can occur when there are sudden changes in a child’s behavior. These changes can include rapid fluctuations in a child’s emotional state. For example, a child may have been easy going and now is angry and hard to console or easily tearful. In addition, a child may become watchful or hyper-vigilant as he always scans his environment. The child may also be easily startled by sounds or movements.
Other signs of abuse include a child who lacks adult supervision. The child also may be passive, overly compliant, or withdrawn. When the child is at any activity, he may come early, stay late, and not want to go home.
If adults see some of these general signs or if the child confides in them that abuse is occurring, a report must be made. In Kentucky, there is a 24 Hour Child Protection Hotline where child abuse can be reported at 1-877-597-2331. Even if adults have some doubts about whether abuse is happening, it is important to call. Child Protective Services can make the final decision on the issue after investigating.
When adults call the hotline, there is certain information they will need to provide. This includes the suspected child’s identity, any person believed to be responsible for the abuse, the nature and extent of the abuse, and where the child can be found.
Once a call has been made, a case will be initiated within 24-48 hours unless the child is in imminent danger, in which case the investigation starts within an hour of the call. It is everyone’s responsibility to be on the lookout for child abuse or neglect. If you suspect a child is being abused, report it and help ensure a brighter future for that child.
This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on May 3, 2015