- Define child abuse and child neglect.
- Describe the legal and ethical obligation to report suspicions of child abuse and neglect.
- Describe program practices that promote prevention and reporting.
- Describe the role of the Family Advocacy Program.
As a program leader, you help set the climate for your organization. In the context of child abuse and neglect, the staff members will look to you to set the standard on identification, reporting, and prevention of child abuse and neglect. There are perhaps no other topics where the stakes for program quality are so high. Approximately 600,000 children every year are affected by child abuse and neglect in the United States—some of them in child care programs. You have the opportunity and the responsibility to make your program a place where all children are safe, all staff are well-prepared, and all families are honored. To do so requires continuous effort and continuous improvement. This course will provide an introduction to the program practices that help promote recognition and reporting. A subsequent course will focus on the program practices that help prevent child abuse and neglect. These courses serve as an introduction. Throughout your career it will be necessary to continue updating and expanding your knowledge of these important topics through additional professional development.
The purpose of this lesson is to:
- Define child abuse and neglect. All staff members who work in child development programs and school-age programs read the same definitions in their coursework. This is critical for helping keep all staff on the same page and building a consistent understanding of these important topics.
- Define your role in reporting child abuse and neglect. You are a mandated reporter, but you also supervise a team of mandated reporters who work directly with children every day. You have dual roles to recognize the signs of abuse and neglect and to ensure others are able to recognize the signs.
- Introduce you to your partners in child abuse reporting and prevention: the Family Advocacy Program (FAP), Child Protective Services (CPS), and law enforcement.
- Describe the program practices that promote the identification and reporting of abuse and neglect.
What is Child Abuse and Neglect?
Take a minute to reflect on that definition. What are your impressions of the federal definition? What does it mean? Let’s explore each part in more detail:
- Any recent act or failure to act: This reminds us that abuse and neglect are two distinct concepts. A child can be harmed by overt actions like hitting or kicking, but a child can also be harmed when an adult fails to provide for the child’s well-being.
- on the part of a parent or caretaker: Remember abuse and neglect can happen anywhere and by anyone. Abuse does not just happen at the hands of a parent or family member. Abuse and neglect can be performed by anyone who is responsible for the care of a child. This might be a teacher, coach, faith leader, or any other individual in a caregiving or supervisory role.
- which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation
- or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm: We don’t have to wait for tragedies to strike. If a child is in serious risk of harm, it can be considered abuse or neglect.
This definition is the minimum federal standard. States and government departments can develop their own more specific definitions of child abuse and neglect. MILIn your workplace, you will observe and follow the Department of Defense definitions of child abuse and neglect.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services MILand the military Family Advocacy Program state that child abuse and neglect generally falls into one of these four categories:
Where Does Child Abuse and Neglect Occur?
Child abuse and neglect can happen anywhere. You should be familiar with two distinct types of abuse and neglect.
Familial abuse or neglect occurs when a child is in the care of a parent or family member. This could be in the child’s home, while in the car with family, at the store, in the parking lot before school starts, or other places in the community. The act of abuse or neglect is performed by a parent, guardian, or other person designated to provide care for the child, including siblings and babysitters.
Institutional abuse or neglect occurs outside the home in community or private settings, such as schools, religious organizations, community groups, or during extracurricular activities, while the child is in the care of a non-family member. This type of abuse or neglect is also known as “out-of-home” or “extra-familial” abuse or neglect. This type of abuse typically involves a child and an adult in a supervisory role, like a teacher, caregiver, or volunteer. MILThroughout the rest of this course, institutional abuse will refer to abuse or neglect which may occur in Department of Defense-sponsored facilities, programs, or activities. This course will focus on abuse or neglect which may occur in child development centers, family child care homes, sponsored field trips, and school-age care programs. Remember, though, that institutional abuse can also occur in installation homework or computer centers, mentoring or tutoring programs, sports programs, chapel programs, scouts, Morale Welfare and Recreation programs, teen centers and youth programs.
Who is At-Risk?
Child abuse and neglect can happen to anyone. There is no “typical” abuser or victim. There are some situations that are associated with higher levels of risk for abuse or neglect, though. Understanding who is more at-risk for abuse and neglect can help us provide extra support to children and families who are experiencing stress. We can think of risk occurring at several levels: individual, family, and community.
Three categories of children are more at-risk for experiencing child abuse and neglect: young children, children with disabilities, and children with challenging behavior. This means children who have a difficult time communicating, controlling their emotions, following directions, or getting along with others might be at-risk. The adults around them might get frustrated easily or not know how to help the child. We must be careful to remember this does not mean that the child causes the abuse and neglect. The child is never to blame. It also does not mean that only children in these categories are abused or neglected. Rather, we must remember to provide extra support to families whose children meet these characteristics.
There are also some characteristics of adults who are more at-risk for abuse or neglect. Adults with little knowledge of child development or a history of maltreatment as a child are at increased risk for abusing or neglecting a child. It is important to remember, though, that not all adults who were abused as children go on to abuse their own children. Adults with substance abuse, mental health issues, or a harsh approach to discipline may also be at risk.
Abuse is more likely to occur in families that are socially isolated. A family might be socially isolated for many reasons: a recent move or deployment might separate them from extended family and friends, long or unpredictable work schedules might prevent them from having social opportunities, or they might not know how to reach out to others. Child abuse and neglect is also more likely to occur in families that have experienced other forms of domestic violence, like violence against a spouse or partner. Families experiencing stress (like unemployment, birth of a new child, marital conflict, or deployment), poor parent-child relationships, and negative interactions also are more at-risk.
Community risk factors include community violence, high levels of poverty, high levels of mobility and housing instability, high unemployment rates, and poor social connections. Community risk factors can add increased stress on families. Abuse and neglect are more likely to occur when stress is high or access to necessary resources is low.
What is My Role in Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect?
As a manager, you have a responsibility to understand and recognize the signs of child abuse and neglect, to report when there is suspicion, and to put measures in place that aid in the prevention of child abuse and neglect. You and all the staff in your building(s) are mandated reporters for suspicions of child abuse and neglect. This means you are legally required to report suspicions of child abuse and neglect to appropriate authorities including Child Protective Services, Military Family Advocacy Programs, and law enforcement. For more information about the legal ramifications of reporting or failing to report, you can visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway’s resources about state statutes and penalties. You will learn about reporting procedures in subsequent lessons. For now, it is important to recognize that you have an obligation to report your suspicions of child abuse and neglect.
You also have a responsibility to create an environment in which program staff members feel safe to make reports. To do so, you must first ensure that staff members are aware of the definitions and behavioral indicators of abuse and neglect. The Child Abuse Reporting course that all staff members complete is a good start, but you must work with the Training & Curriculum Specialists (T&CSs) to ensure that staff members understand and apply what they have learned. To do so, you should communicate regularly with the T&CSs about staff members’ training needs and any concerns in the program. It is essential that you and the T&CSs present a shared message about the importance of identification, reporting, and prevention of child abuse and neglect. You should review training materials and protocols together and make sure you all understand the materials and procedures related to child abuse and neglect.
How Can I Build Partnerships around Reporting and Preventing Abuse and Neglect?
On military installations, you may work closely with staff of your installation’s Family Advocacy Program (FAP) to create a climate that promotes identification and reporting of child abuse and neglect. You can download the attachment at the bottom of the Learn section to read more about the role of FAP. Watch this video to learn more about FAP’s scope and mission.
You are a mandated reporter, and so are all installation law enforcement personnel, physicians, nurses, social workers, school personnel, Family Advocacy Program and Children, Youth and School personnel, psychologists, and other medical personnel. In some services and on some installations, all service members are mandated reporters.
Clearly, there are many other professionals who share your mission to protect children from harm. You can build relationships with these other professionals and share resources. Reach out to your local FAP office. Learn about how they can support your work with children and families.
Clearly, there are many other professionals who share your mission to protect children from harm. In your community, law enforcement personnel, physicians, nurses, social workers, school personnel, and medical personnel are usually mandated reporters. You can build relationships with these other professionals and share resources. Learn about how they can support your work with children and families.
How Do I Build an Institutional Climate that Promotes Identification and Reporting?
Work closely with FAP, law enforcement, and Children Protective Services (CPS) to develop your standard operating procedures related to child abuse reporting and prevention (you will learn more about this in subsequent lessons). Your standard operating procedure may include in-depth information about the following practices:
- Establish and maintain a relationship with FAP,CPS and law enforcement. Reach out to these important members of your community before a problem occurs. Learn about and discuss the ways you can help one another.
- Develop procedures for maintaining confidentiality for all parties. Develop procedures for who has a “need to know”, filing information about reports separate from a child’s regular file, etc.
- Specify procedures for record keeping and record destruction.
- Communicate procedures for preventing and reporting child abuse and neglect to all staff and volunteers during orientation and regular in-service training.
- Include written policies about child abuse and neglect in the staff handbook.
- Include information about mandated reporting in the parent handbook.
- Schedule a regular review of the protocols, standard operating procedures, and staff trainings. Invite CPS FAP staff to help conduct trainings.
Relationships are the foundation of everything we do in child development and school-age programs. Relationships between children and staff are often at the core of our work. It is important to remember, though, that we serve families, as well. The high quality programming we offer children and families can actually go a long way toward building an institutional and community climate that protects children from child abuse and neglect. Much of the remaining coursework on reporting and preventing child abuse and neglect will focus on the Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework (Center for The Study of Social Policy, 2013). This is an important framework for you to understand and to communicate about in your work with staff.
The Center for the Study of Social Policy has developed the Strengthening Families Protective Factors Framework to prevent child abuse and neglect. There is a resource in the Apply section for you to download and read to learn more about the Protective Factors Framework. In the next few lessons you will also be encouraged to work with Training and Curriculum Specialists to self-assess your program practices in terms of the Protective Factors Framework. Here is a brief overview of the five protective factors that help prevent child abuse and neglect in families. When these five factors are strong, families are better equipped with the skills and supports they need to protect their child from abuse and neglect.
Completing this Course
For more information on what to expect in this course and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the Management Child Abuse: Identification & Reporting Course Guide.
To support the professional development of the direct care staff members or family child care providers you oversee, you can access their corresponding Course Guides:
This lesson has mentioned your legal and ethical obligation to report suspicions of child abuse and neglect. In this activity, you will explore the professional ethics that guide all of our work including our work around child abuse and neglect.
Follow the link from the National Association for the Education of Young Children at: https://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/Supplement%20PS2011.pdf to find the Code of Ethical Conduct Supplement for Early Childhood Program Administrators. Next, download and print the National After-School Association Code of Ethics, found below. Read it carefully and reflect on your commitments to children, families, colleagues, and the communities.
Then download the Ethical Dilemmas activity. Read the scenarios and use either of the Codes of Ethical Conduct to reflect upon the questions. Given the nature of ethical dilemmas, there are no suggested responses. Reflect on your own responses.
NAA Code of Ethics
Before helping staff members identify and report child abuse and neglect, you must fully understand what it is. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has created a fact sheet with a definition and types of child abuse and neglect. Download and print the Fact Sheet as a resource for your program’s professional library.
You can also download and print a two-page description of the Protective Factors Framework approach to learn more about that important model for your work.
Abuse Fact Sheet
Center for the Study of Social Policy (2020). Strengthening Families: A Protective Factors Framework. https://cssp.org/our-work/projects/protective-factors-framework/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Violence Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect Factsheet. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/preventingcan.pdf
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2012). Mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau.
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2012). Penalties for failure to report and false reporting of child abuse and neglect. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau.
Harper Browne, C. (2014). The Strengthening Families Approach and Protective Factors Framework: Branching out and reaching deeper. Washington, D.C.: Center for the Study of Social Policy. https://cssp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Branching-Out-and-Reaching-Deeper.pdf
Military Family Advocacy Programs. http://www.militaryonesource.mil/phases-military-leadership?content_id=266712
Seibel, N. L., Britt, D., Gillespie, L. G., & Parlakian, R. (2006). Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect. Washington, DC: Zero to Three: Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2012). Child Maltreatment 2011.
Zero to Three: Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families. (2006). The Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect. https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/91-the-prevalence-of-child-abuse-and-neglect