- Recognize the emotions associated with suspecting abuse and reporting child abuse or neglect.
- Identify the protective factors that can help you manage the stress related to child abuse and neglect in homes and programs.
- Identify strategies related to each protective factor for promoting your own wellness and building resilience.
There are few professional experiences as stressful as suspecting and reporting child abuse or neglect. Before and after the report, you will likely feel a range of emotions. Read these quotes from professionals who have experienced this situation. Reflect on how you might feel.
Before the Report...
“I was so nervous I was making a mistake. I just thought this couldn’t be possible. I knew the man I was reporting and had always thought he was a nice guy.”
“I was afraid that I would hurt the family’s feelings and put a wall up between us. I knew they needed help, but I just didn’t know if it was the right thing to do.”
“I was afraid that the child would get hurt worse if I reported…that she would get in trouble at home.”
“I was confident I was doing the right thing. I was so angry that such a thing could happen to the child.”
“I was afraid people wouldn’t believe me.”
“I was really disappointed in the situation. I knew the mom could lose her job for this, and those were high stakes to consider.”
After the Report...
“I was relieved to have admitted what I saw.”
“I was anxious about how the family would respond.”
“I really needed to know whether I was right. I was frustrated that I couldn’t get answers to my questions about the report.”
The emotions can be even more complicated when you suspect and report child abuse or neglect that occurred in your own family child care. You may suspect one of your colleagues or friends. You may be neighbors or attend the same community events. You might worry that you will be judged or socially excluded because of your report. You may feel compelled to “cover” for someone you know or like. You may also feel pressured to protect the reputation of your family child care. All of these emotions are natural, but you must remember your legal obligation to protect children from harm. If a child has been harmed or is in imminent risk of harm, you must make a report. Remember, you are in the right. It is not OK for anyone to pressure you not to report a clear suspicion of abuse or neglect. Do not ignore your instincts. A child’s life may depend on it.
The stress of this type of event is immense. It can feel overwhelming when you add your own very real life stressors—child rearing, marital conflict, housing issues, financial concerns. It is important that you take care of yourself. You must be at your best to do the important work of caring for children every day. When you feel calm, comfortable, and confident, you are better able to build relationships with families. The same protective factors that help families cope with challenges apply to all of us as adults. Let’s explore each of the protective factors and how they might apply to your own well-being. This material has been adapted from Preventing Child Maltreatment and Promoting Well-Being: A Network for Action 2013 Resource Guide by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Strengthening Families Protective Factors (Figure 1)
We all need the ability to cope with the stresses of everyday life. In the context of this particular course, let’s think about the stresses associated with suspecting and reporting child abuse or neglect. The emotions you feel may make you feel less capable of doing your job. The stress may reduce your capacity to cope with the stresses of your own family life. Each one of us has strengths we can draw upon: faith, flexibility, humor, communication skills, problem-solving skills, mutually supportive caring relationships, or the ability to identify and access outside resources (https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/). We can take the time to make sure we nurture and expand these strengths in ourselves and others.
Knowledge of child development:
It seems obvious, but understanding typical child development will help you continue to do your job during stressful times. It will enrich your ability to build connections with children and respond to them in developmentally appropriate ways. Your knowledge of child development can help you recover from a stressful event like reporting a suspicion of abuse or neglect. It will help you feel more confident continuing to work with children and families every day. By understanding typical development, you will develop the tools you need to talk to coworkers or children about their experiences and emotions—and your own.
Research suggests that strong social connections promote health, wellness, and longevity. By creating or strengthening social relationships in your own life, you will be better able to do your job well.
We all need tools to help us do our jobs. It is OK—and important—to ask for help when it is needed. Talk to your colleagues or family child care administrator about ways you can get new ideas for your family child care program, individual children, or families. Also remember that you are not immune to stress outside of work, too. You might be experiencing any number of stressors at home. Seek out and use community resources, whether it’s assistance with filing taxes, finding quality health care, or job assistance for a spouse or partner.
Social and emotional competence of children:
This is the foundation of the work you do every day in child development programs. Focusing on promoting children’s social and emotional competence can help you feel good about the work you do and can help you recover from trauma. You will learn much more about this topic in the Social & Emotional Development and the Positive Guidance courses. For now, understand your role as one of promoting healthy relationships, communication skills, and self-expression.
You do hard work every day. To keep yourself mentally and physically healthy, you must learn to recognize your own signs of stress. Watch this video to learn more about stress and protecting your own mental health.
Consider the following strategies adapted from Preventing Child Maltreatment and Promoting Well-Being: A Network for Action 2013 Resource Guide by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Building Your Resilience:
- Build trusting relationships with the families you serve and with other family child care providers. Take the time to get to know these people. The time spent investing in relationships through conversations and celebrations can help you enjoy your job more and be better at it.
- Find out about mental health support resources in your community. Talk to them whenever you feel the need, and make sure families can access their services.
- Watch for early signs of stress in yourself. Get help early.
- Seek out professional development on strategies that reduce stress: goal setting, anticipating difficulties, problem-solving, communication, and self-care.
- Remember that mental health and physical health are interrelated. Take the time to exercise, eat well, and seek out opportunities for relaxation, meditation, or prayer.
- It’s helpful to acknowledge and accept your emotions during hard times, having feelings is a normal human experience, make a plan to tackle negative emotions. If you feel overwhelmed, seek support to provide perspective on a problem.
- Work with your backup provider to establish when you can take some time away from your family child care program or attend to personal needs like doctor or dentist visits. It can be especially hard for family care providers, particularly those who work alone, to have personal time, so be proactive about securing the personal time you need and deserve.
Knowledge of Child Development
- Complete the courses on the Virtual Laboratory School website. These courses will help you understand social, cognitive, and physical development. It will also help you learn and use effective practices in your work with children.
- Seek out resources in your community and online. There are a variety of tools available from reputable agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has compiled easily accessible information about developmental milestones. You can also find information at educational resource centers.
- Take advantage of professional development opportunities. Attend conferences and workshops. Participate in coaching or mentoring opportunities.
- Attend social events, like potlucks, in your community or with groups to which you belong. Try hosting a social event for your family child care program, perhaps with another provider. Talk to families.
- Develop a new hobby or expand an old one. Take a class on a topic that interests you. Community colleges, local retailers, and community recreation departments offer inexpensive courses around a variety of topics like cooking, technology, foreign languages, exercise, and knitting.
- Build or retain strong connections with your neighborhood, place of worship, or other community institutions.
- Admit when you need help. If you are struggling with finances, relationship issues, or other personal concerns, don’t let yourself become overwhelmed. Be a role model for the families you serve and get the help you need.
- Learn about health-care options, child care subsidies, and other benefits that might help you and the families you serve.
- Observe for signs of stress in yourself and talk to someone who can help. If you have a history of trauma yourself, you may be especially vulnerable to stress.
Social and Emotional Competence of Children:
- Talk to other providers about the curriculum or strategies you can use to promote social and emotional competence.
- Identify the key social skills children need during the infant and toddler, preschool and school-age years. Create and post a chart of developmental milestones as a reminder for yourself, co-workers, and families.
- Remember you can be a safe and stable influence in a child’s life.
You have learned a lot in the past few lessons about Kate and her family. Take some time to reflect on Kate’s experiences and the experiences of her family. Read and review the Case Study Reflection activity. Reflect upon the questions and share your responses with your family child care administrator. Then, review the suggested responses for additional reflections.
Take some time to think about how to handle your own stress. Read the Stress Tip Sheet and reflect upon the areas of your own life that could be strengthened or supported. In addition to the Stress Tip Sheet attachment below, refer to the following websites for:
Tips on managing your workplace stress: https://www.apa.org/topics/healthy-workplaces/workplace-stress
Stress facts and resources: https://www.apa.org/topics/stress
American Psychological Association. (2022). Psychology Help Center Stress Tip Sheet. Resources available from https://www.apa.org/search?query=stress&Classification=Stress&sort=Relevance
American Psychological Association. (2011). Building Your Resilience. https://www.apaservices.org/practice/good-practice/building-resilience.pdf
Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation. (n.d.). Taking Care of Ourselves & Stress Reduction. Resources available from https://www.ecmhc.org/relaxation.html
Center for the Study of Social Policy. (2018). Strengthening Families: A Protective Factors Framework. https://cssp.org/resource/about-strengthening-families-and-the-protective-factors-framework/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Violence Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/