- 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.
The emotions can be even more complicated when you suspect and report child abuse or neglect that occurred in your own program. 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 program. 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 can feel overwhelming, especially when you add your own life stressors—child rearing, marital conflict, housing issues, or financial concerns. It is important that you take care of yourself. Whether you are preparing meals, cleaning the center, fixing a leaking faucet, answering the phone, or greeting families as they arrive, you play an important role in the daily operation and overall quality of your program. You must be at your best to do the important work of providing a high-quality program for children and families. When you feel calm, comfortable, and confident, you are better able to connect with children and families, have positive interactions with coworkers, and feel successful at your job.
Experts have identified certain skills that help families persevere through challenges they face. 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 the 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 Your Own 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:
Your understanding of typical child development will help you continue to do your job during stressful times and better assist direct care staff. It will enrich your ability to positively interact with children in the program and respond to them in developmentally appropriate ways. It will also help you feel more confident in responding to or reporting inappropriate interactions between adults and children. Your knowledge of child development can help you recover from a stressful event like reporting a suspicion of abuse or neglect. By understanding typical development, you will develop the tools you need to understand appropriate expectations for behavior, how to interact with children in supportive ways, and how to talk with children about their experiences and emotions.
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 recover from stress and 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 program manager about tools that will help you feel successful at your job. Reflect on supports that you might be able to offer to families (e.g., offering resources on healthy meal ideas, a list of food pantries in the area, or a family cooking class). You should also talk with your supervisor about supports your workplace might offer, such as staff counseling services. Seek out supports offered by your program as well as community resources to help buffer the stressors that you experience at home and at work.
Social and emotional competence of children:
The foundation of a high-quality program is an effective workforce that provides supportive environments and nurturing relationships that promote the social and emotional competence of children. An effective workforce includes direct care staff as well as those in support staff roles. Children learn from all adults around them, and you play a role in promoting children’s social and emotional competence. Focusing on building children’s social and emotional competence through safe and positive interactions can help you feel good about the work you do and can help you recover from trauma. Speak to your program manager about ways you can further support children’s social emotional development. For now, understand that you play an important role in creating programs that promote 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 and listen as experts discuss stress and the importance of building adult resilience.
Earlier in the lesson, you reviewed the five protective factors that can help protect you from stress, especially in the aftermath of making a report of abuse or neglect. Now, consider some ways you can apply these protective factors at work. 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 coworkers you see every day. 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 do better at it.
- Take the time to get to know the families and children in your program. Even though your interactions with children and families are not as frequent as those of direct care providers, you are an important member of the program. Take the time to build relationships with them so that you feel more confident in your role as a mandated reporter. Talk regularly with your supervisor or administrator. This person is there to support you in your work and can help you when you need it. Your supervisor or administrator can be a valuable professional resource for you.
- Find out about mental health support resources in your program. Mental health professionals should be part of your team. Talk to them whenever you feel the need.
- 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. Regardless of your role, attending a training on one of these topics can enhance your job performance and professional development.
- Remember that mental health and physical health are interrelated. Take the time to exercise and eat well, and seek out opportunities for relaxation, meditation, or prayer.
- Work with your program manager to establish when you can take time away from your program. Taking time off work is important for your well-being, so be proactive about securing the personal time you need and deserve.
Knowledge of Child Development
- Complete courses on the Virtual Lab School that are assigned to you and talk to your program manager about additional trainings that you can complete to enhance your knowledge of child development.
- 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 that enhance your knowledge of child development and support learning goals relevant to your role and interests.
- Use (or talk to management about creating) a relaxing space in your program where you can take a break.
- Attend social events, like staff potlucks or family events held at your program. Connect with families and coworkers during these events to get to know them better.
- Develop a new hobby or work on an existing 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. When you are honest about getting the help you need, you can be a good role model for your friends and coworkers.
- Learn about health care options, childcare subsidies, and other benefits that might help you and the families you serve.
- With your program manager, discuss concrete supports relevant to your role that you might offer to families (e.g., a nutrition workshop or food pantry resource list).
- Watch 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. Reporting abuse or neglect can trigger a reawakening of past traumas, so be especially vigilant if you have just filed a report.
Social and Emotional Competence of Children
- Talk to your program manager about the strategies direct care staff members use to promote children’s social and emotional competence and ways that you can build children’s social and emotional competence through your interactions as well.
- Talk to your program manager about posting a chart of developmental milestones in the program as a reminder to all staff members and families.
- Remember you can be a safe and stable influence in a child’s life.
Take some time to reflect on the emotions you might experience after witnessing or reporting a suspicion of child abuse or neglect. Download the Reflecting on Your Emotions activity. Reflect upon the questions and share your responses with a trainer, supervisor, or coach.
Take some time to think about how to handle your own stress. Download the Stress Tip Sheet and reflect upon the areas of your own life that could be strengthened or supported. This tip sheet is reproduced from the American Psychological Association. For more information and links to the original tip sheet, please visit: https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-tips.aspx.
In addition to the Stress Tip Sheet, refer to the following websites for more information:
American Psychological Association: Psychology Help Center Stress Tip Sheet. Resources available from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/index.aspx
Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (n.d.). Taking Care of Ourselves & Stress Reduction. Resources available from http://www.ecmhc.org/relaxation.html
Center for the Study of Social Policy. (2018). Strengthening Families: A Protective Factors Framework. Retrieved from https://cssp.org/our-work/projects/protective-factors-framework/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Violence Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/