How Safe Adults Can Address The Physical Abuse Of Children

When a boy was brought to the emergency treatment "because of a fall" caused by "roughhousing with his brothers," the attending physician became suspicious. The boy had a severely bruised lip, but the physician reported that "other signs were missing from an injury that was caused by a fall."

For example, there was no injury to the boy's chin or nose, "which would have hit the concrete also during a normal fall." The physician was also alarmed by the bruising he found around the boy's eye.

Because physicians are mandated by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect, the physician contacted local law enforcement. An investigation ensued, and as a result, police arrested the boy's stepmother.

The woman was tried before a jury, which found the woman guilty of striking her stepson "on the lip with a metal spoon and on the shoulders and face with a tent pole." The jury also found the woman guilty of hitting the boy's younger brother on the tooth with a metal spoon, as well as "holding a lighter under his tongue for lying and hitting his genitals with a belt for wetting the bed."

The 25-year-old woman has not been sentenced yet. She faces a possible sentence ranging from five years to life in prison. Patrick Johnston, "Woody found guilty on 16 counts of child abuse," (Sept. 7, 2017).

Commentary and Checklist

Child maltreatment includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or any form of neglect or exploitation of a child. Child maltreatment is a public health problem that can negatively affect children for the rest of their lives.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, in its most recent (2012) study, that 1,640 children died in the United States in 2012 from abuse and neglect, and child protective services found 686,000 children were victims of maltreatment that year.

Children will only be safe if every adult, whether or not the adult is designated by law as a mandatory reporter, reports child abuse and neglect. Approximately 48 states, the District of Columbia and all U.S. territories have statutes that identify individuals who are required by law to report suspected child maltreatment to a government agency such as child protective services, law enforcement, or the toll-free child abuse reporting hotline in their state.

These individuals include law enforcement officers, medical examiners or coroners, child care providers, social workers, counselors, therapists, other mental health professionals, physicians, nurses, other health-care workers, teachers, principals, and other school personnel. They are mandatory reporters because they have jobs that enable them to come in close contact with children. Their job duties allow them to notice signs of child maltreatment.

The physician in the source article has the medical qualifications to accurately observe and note when a victim’s injuries are not consistent with a fall. He knew he had to report the matter to the proper authorities, and by doing so, he may have saved the lives of the two boys.

Every adult should report his or her reasonable concerns or suspicions to law enforcement. Law enforcement will investigate to determine if abuse or neglect is occurring.

Here are some tips regarding reporting child maltreatment:

  • Child maltreatment must be reported in the state in which it occurred.
  • Mandatory reporters are required by law to report child maltreatment. Several states require all adults suspecting maltreatment to report any concerns.
  • Most states have a reporting hotline, which is sometimes, but not always, accessible 24/7.
  • It may take a while to get through on the hotline, possibly requiring more than one call. Be patient and do not give up.
  • Be prepared with information about the suspected maltreatment, such as the victim's name and age, the type of abuse involved, and the name of the suspected abuser.
  • Even if you do not have all the information or are not quite sure if maltreatment is occurring, make the call anyway and report your concerns. You can report in good faith and anonymously.
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