• Don’t be afraid to be wrong. You don’t need to have hard evidence or proof of child abuse or neglect to report your concerns. If you’re wrong, social workers and investigators will soon discover that and close the case. It might be uncomfortable for the alleged abuser and he or she may get angry. But you can report anonymously, and it’s far better to risk someone taking offense or social workers finding no evidence of abuse than for a child to suffer because no one speaks up.
• Actions often speak volumes. Does a young child cringe, raise an arm defensively or try to hide when her mother turns to her? These behaviors can be the reflexive response of a child who’s frequently hit. Do you know a child who has become withdrawn, had a persistent loss of appetite, or started doing poorly in school? Changes in behavior may signal a variety of emotional problems, including abuse and neglect. What about witnessing an adult lose their patience with a child at a store or other public place in a manner that seems over-the-top? If it appears to be an emergency, call 911, Golay says. Otherwise, try to defuse the situation. “You might smile at the parent and say something like, ‘It can be so hard to bring kids shopping. I remember it well.’ Scolding or criticizing will only make the situation worse, but attention and understanding words may calm the person.”
• How to report your concerns? If you want to talk to a professional crisis counselor before making a report, call Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). While counselors cannot file a report for you, they can answer your questions, provide information about resources, and discuss the situation that has drawn your concern. The hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To report abuse, each state has a toll-free number; find the list at tinyurl.com/ReportChildAbuse. If you witness a situation that requires an immediate law enforcement response, call 911.
“Whatever you do,” says Golay, “do something.”
“We’re all very aware of child abuse and neglect, but still, most people continue to hang back and say or do nothing when they have concerns,” she says. “This is not acceptable. We all have a duty to keep our children safe.”
About Rayne E. Golay
Rayne E. Golay is a certified drug and alcohol counselor whose work with addicts informs her understanding and insights into the consequences of child abuse. She has a Master’s in Psychology and is a lifelong reader and writer. The Wooden Chair, published in 2013 by Untreed Reads, won the Royal Palm Literary Award for mainstream literature in the 2005 Florida Writers Association’s competition. She hopes that this story inspires witnesses to speak up for children whom they suspect are suffering from any form of abuse and/or neglect.