Child Abuse: Child Abuse Reporting
Describe some questions or observations you might make to determine if a child abuse report is in order
The California Child Abuse Reporting Law imposes upon mandated reporters a duty to make immediate reports to the relevant agencies in case they suspect or are aware of a neglectful or abusive situation involving a child in their care or one that they interact with in the course of their work (McCulloch, 2012). In their report, the reporter is required to provide as much information as they possibly can about the affected child's situation including the extent and nature of their injuries, conditions in the child's home environment, their age, name, addresses, as well as the addresses and names of the person(s) responsible for the child (McCulloch, 2012). In the State of California, such a report must be filed at the sheriff's department, any police department, the county welfare department, or any probation department designated by the county to receive such reports (McCulloch, 2012).
There are a number of red flags/observations that a reporter could look out for if they suspect a case of child abuse and think that a child abuse report could be in order. First, if the child's home environment is within reach, they could look out for environmental indicators of abuse or neglect such as extreme filth or dirt; toxins, medications or dangerous weapons placed within the reach of children; hazardous conditions such as animal waste, faulty electrical features and broken windows; and choking hazards left within children's reach (McCulloch, 2012). These are obvious signs of neglect by the child's parent or caretaker, placing the child at a high risk of physical injury.
In addition to environmental indicators, the reporter could observe the parent's or caregiver's behavior or attitude towards the child. This would be the first step towards knowing whether the child's caretaker is the same person responsible for the abuse (McCulloch, 2012). Signs to look out for in this case would include an apparent lack of understanding for the child and what they are capable (or not capable) of doing at their age. The reporter could assess the caretaker's expectations of the child to determine whether or not they are realistic. Alternatively, they could take note of their attitude(s) towards childrearing, or the manner in which they refer to the child in public (McCulloch, 2012). Unrealistic expectations of a child, rigid attitudes about childrearing, constant belittling of a child (for instance constantly referring to them as 'beyond control', 'evil' or 'bad') could be red flags that the child is being abused by the very person to whom their care is entrusted; and the reporter is obliged to report the same to the relevant authorities as soon as possible (McCulloch, 2012).
Valuable information such as that touching on the punishment techniques used by the caretaker may be difficult to obtain through observation. In such a case, the reporter could establish a personal relationship with the affected child and then obtain the same through questioning and interviewing them (McCulloch, 2012). Extreme punishment techniques such as the use of whips or belts, withholding meals, and locking a child for prolonged periods in the closet are sufficient indicators that the child is being abused by their caretaker (McCulloch, 2012). In this case, physical indicators such as bruises and injuries on the child's body would also serve as positive indicators of abuse.
The kind of relationship that exists between the affected child and their parents could also help in establishing the risk of abuse (McCulloch, 2012). Coercive or limited child-parent interactions and instability issues such as divorce, separation or domestic abuse are all risk factors for child abuse (McCulloch, 2012).
Finally, the reporter could observe the child for physical and behavioral indicators of abuse (McCulloch, 2012). These indicators vary with the different forms of abuse and are, therefore, an efficient way of determining the specific kind of abuse to which a child has, or is being subjected.
For physical abuse, for instance, key physical indicators would include burns and scalds; unexplained bruises and broken bones; bruises with distinctive outlines or patterns; and injuries to the genitalia, face, ears, back, or buttocks (McCulloch, 2012). The likely behavioral indicators in this case would include fear of going home, fear of parents or caretakers, withdrawn behavior, wariness...
Behavioral red flags, on the other hand, could include sexualized behavior, extreme defiance or compliance, changes in sleeping, eating or toileting patterns (for instance fecal soiling or bedwetting), and withdrawn behavior (McCulloch, 2012).
For the case of neglect, the signs are more obvious -- physical indicators would include malnourishment, developmental delays, unattended dental or medical conditions, poor hygiene, and inappropriate dressing for the weather (McCulloch, 2012). Behavioral red flags, on the other hand, could include delinquent behavior and social maladjustment, low self-esteem, suicidal attempts, self-mutilation, depression, and anxiety (McCulloch, 2012).
These are all possible indicators of child abuse, and since the reporter's role is to report and not to investigate, they are required to file their reports once they make any observations that present a reasonable suspicion.
Question 1b: If you are unsure about whether or not to report, whom might you consult to help you decide?
At times, a mandated reporter may have a reasonable suspicion of abuse, but may be unsure about whether what they have heard or seen really qualifies as abuse based on the state's definition of the same. One of the greatest sources of the dilemma is the effect of culture. Culture is influenced by a variety of factors including language, nationality, religion, age, gender, race, and so on. In turn, culture influences people's ideas and attitudes about what constitutes child abuse. This may become evident in the different attitudes and perspectives that people hold about childrearing (McCulloch, 2012). Some families, for instance, may have a rather relaxed attitude towards nudity, family sleeping, and children upbringing, and a reporter may mistake this for child abuse. Other families may consider corporal punishment and spanking an acceptable way of disciplining children, yet a conservative reporter could mistake this for abuse. Rather than use their own pre-existing beliefs to judge others, a reporter could consult with other people who share the same culture, or with the child protective agency closest to them to determine whether their observations indeed qualify as child abuse (McCulloch, 2012).
They could also consult other mandated reporters within their reach to obtain different perspectives on whether what they have observed warrants reporting. Other mandatory reporters, preferably those who have served in the role of reporter for a considerably long period, could provide crucial insight based on whether they would report the same if they were in the reporter's situation. These reporters, according to the California Penal Code (PC) Section 11165.7, could include clergy members, any custodian of clergy records, educators (including teachers and teachers' aides) and law enforcement officers (including employees in welfare, probation, sheriff's and police departments) (McCulloch, 2012). The idea is that these may have handled similar cases in the past, and may even have vital information on the affected family's history in relation to child abuse.
A reporter may at times be unsure about whether a child's physical indicators of abuse are a cause for alarm (McCulloch, 2012). Young children spend most of their time playing, and accidental injuries in the form of bruises, grazes or burns may be almost inevitable. Medical professionals could be consulted in such cases to help the reporter decide whether the physical injuries present on a child's body are as a result of abuse (McCulloch, 2012). A practitioner will often conduct an examination to determine whether the injuries present follow a distinctive pattern or outline. Bruises, for instance, that have a clear outline of a hand, cord, or belt with no identifiable and obvious pattern are less likely to have resulted from accidental play (Corby, Shemmings & Wilkins, 2012). Moreover, injuries in areas such as the genitalia, the buttocks, the cheeks, the abdomen and the ears, which are not commonly bruised accidentally, could be indicators of abuse (Corby, Shemmings & Wilkins, 2012). Additionally, whereas skull fractures qualify as common accidental injuries, serious fractures such as those to the metaphyseal features and the ribs are more likely to have been inflicted (Corby, Shemmings & Wilkins, 2012). A medical practitioner would help a reporter understand this and decide on whether their observations warrant reporting.
Mental health professionals could also provide crucial insight, particularly in regard to whether a child's behavioral patterns ought to be taken as a cause for alarm. They could provide information on whether a child is suffering from abuse-related depression, or whether they just have an introverted personality. Further, they could provide insight on whether…
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