As an adult who has done various kinds of work with youths, I’ve been a mandated reporter several times over. Mandated reporters are what they sound like: people who work with children, who are legally mandated to report suspected child abuse. Such people include clergy, teachers, police officers, doctors, coaches, camp counselors, therapists, etc.; pretty much anyone who works with kids in any way. And, just to throw it out there, if you live in Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, or Utah, even if you are not a mandated reporter, if you suspect child abuse, you legally have to report it. So if you can hear a kid crying through the wall in the apartment next door, along with a bunch of loud crashes, you call. If you see a parent grabbing his or her kid’s wrist way too tight and physically dragging the child to the car from soccer practice, you call. If you notice when dropping off your child at the bus stop that one of the neighborhood kids consistently has a black eye, you call.
And the signs don’t even have to be that obvious. Remember, the term that is legally used to describe mandated reporting is suspects. If it there’s not enough evidence, child protective services won’t investigate, but you never know if a teacher or coach has called with a similar suspicion–and the two together could lead to action. As someone who lived through child abuse, I feel compelled to give some examples. When I was in the sixth grade, a CPS caseworker did visit our home. It is unbelievable to me that it only happened that one time. And nothing happened afterwards, either; there was no follow-up, no resources or tools offered, nothing. (important note: usually when CPS does a home visit, they do not remove the kids. They often provide parenting classes and other resources) I wish more people had looked out for me and my sibling. It’s an idea that makes me furious and sad all the time; why didn’t anyone notice? Or if they did, why didn’t they do anything? So please, read the vignettes below to know how a “suspicious” instance might look.
- A kid shows up to a play-date/school/sports practice/wherever sobbing uncontrollably and refuses to tell anyone why. I did this all the time. From age 3 to age 15. It’s suspicious as fuck. Call CPS.
- A child who is old enough to be toilet trained wets the bed or has other incontinence problems, knows much more sexual vocabulary and language than they should, and has mood swings. This is typical of victims of sexual abuse, which I did not experience, but I believe it’s important for all to know about.
- A kid has mysterious bruises, bumps, cuts, etc., all the time, with highly implausible stories that go along with them. Ex.: “Oh, my nose is broken and still bleeding throughout the entire morning because I opened a cupboard too fast when getting breakfast, and accidentally slammed it in to my own face.” How did my coaches believe that when I said it at practice, age 14? How did they not realize I was lying, that it’s a ridiculous story, and that I was covering something up? How? How how how?
- A kid talks about him/herself as being bad, puts him- or herself down, has serious anxiety about getting in trouble at school, and/or has panic attacks when receiving less than perfect grades. These kids come off as perfectionists, but if they are unhappy, anxious, depressed perfectionists, they are probably scared shitless of someone else’s reaction to their imperfection. When I cried because I got a 89% in geometry class, my geometry teacher probably should have thought that was odd. When I got in trouble for pranking a girl at camp (age 11, it was stupid, I poured water on her pillow in the middle of the day), and started hyperventilating and begging over and over “please don’t call my mom, please please please,” and then ran away and hid for an hour, someone should have thought, “wow, that’s strange behavior”.
- If a child is extremely angry often, hurts other kids, resists being touched by adults even gently, has hypervigilence (can’t sit still, looking around, fidgety), he or she may be a victim of physical abuse. The symptoms of ADHD are extremely similar to trauma in children. So before labeling a kid and writing him/her off as a “troublemaker,” which is what happened to my sibling, look a little closer for any other warning signs.
There are many more examples, and I’ll put some helpful links below for more information. Also, if you have any questions, contact someone who trains mandated reporters or CPS themselves. If you notice any warning signals and feel concern towards a child, call your state or county’s CPS number. If you feel anxious, because you don’t want to cause conflict with the perpetrator, remember 1. CPS does not disclose who filed a report and 2. The child deserves your help. Be brave. Be a hero. Also, if you feel nervous about the call because you don’t want to cause kids to be separated from their parents, also keep in mind that removal is usually the last resort, for extreme cases. Usually, as I mentioned above, parenting classes, multiple home visits from a caseworker, and family counseling are provided first. But, if a situation is truly dangerous, removal could be the best option for the kid.
Don’t be a bystander. Adults have the power to improve victim’s lives. Underage victims do not. Please report.
Hotlines **Note: Hotlines are not the same as child protective services, but they can help you figure out how to contact CPS and provide other resources
Signs of abuse from the Mayo Clinic