- Recognize the signs of abuse and neglect.
- Identify management practices your program can use to prevent child abuse and neglect in homes and in the program.
- Describe program practices that promote prevention and reporting.
Child maltreatment, various forms of abuse and neglect, is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Early childhood professionals are mandated reporters, meaning that they are legally required to report child all incidences of suspected child abuse and neglect. This lesson will give you a basic introduction to the topic of child abuse and neglect, however you will learn more in the courses titled Child Abuse: Prevention and Child Abuse: Identification & Reporting.
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. According to the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2018 about 677,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect. You have the opportunity and responsibility to make your program a place where all children are safe, all staff are well-prepared, and all families are honored.
What is Child Abuse and Neglect?
At its most basic form, child abuse and neglect are defined under federal law as:
- Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation of a child
- An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm to a child
What are the Signs of Abuse or Neglect?
When considering signs of abuse or neglect, keep in mind that every child is different. Any one behavior may not necessarily be a symptom of abuse or neglect. If there is a pattern of behavior or multiple signs, however, you may have a reason to be concerned. As a Program Manager, it is your responsibility to make sure staff members know the signs. The Learn attachment, “What Is Child Abuse and Neglect? Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) offers a list of child and parent behaviors that may be signs of abuse. Share this tool with staff members, discuss the signs and answer any questions that staff have about identifying suspected child maltreatment.
As previously mentioned, early childhood professionals are mandated reporters. This means that you and all of your staff members are legally bound to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect. It is your job to ensure that staff members demonstrate competence in child abuse identification, prevention, and reporting procedures. You will learn more in the courses titled Child Abuse: Prevention and Child Abuse: Identification & Reporting.
As a Program Manager, you are responsible for ensuring that your program is compliant with annual child-abuse training requirements and follow reporting requirements. There are specific steps you and your staff need to take if confronted with suspicion of abuse or neglect. It is important that everyone, yourself included, understands your PUBLICprogram's requirements for reporting abuse and neglect.
As a Program Manager, you play a pivotal role in supporting families and staff to prevent abuse and neglect. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most abuse and neglect happens within families, especially families where there are high levels of stress. Knowing that there are increased emotional risks associated with their roles, you need to provide increased opportunities for education and support for both families and staff. More information on strengthening families will be provided in the Family Engagement course.
Supervise & Support
Throughout this lesson an experienced teacher will share her experiences reporting child abuse and neglect. These video examples could be useful to share with staff members who are wondering if their feelings and experiences are “normal.” Remember, these three experiences occurred at different times and different programs over a career.
Listen as a staff member describes their experience reporting child neglect. Pay special attention to how she became suspicious, what signs she noticed, and the positive outcomes.
Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect at Home
There is a lot you can do to minimize the risk of child abuse and neglect. You can think of your role as one to educate families and provide awareness of child abuse and neglect. To minimize the risk of abuse and neglect, your program can serve families on three levels (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Consider ways you might support your program in the following ways:
- Your program can make family members aware of the resources around them. Share information in a variety of formats (written, visual, auditory) and make sure resources are available in the family’s home language. You can hang posters about positive parenting techniques. Your program can host parent education nights about nurturing, attachment, or positive discipline. Your program can also organize family support groups. These supports could benefit all of the families in your community, regardless of risk for child abuse or neglect.
- Your program may identify families most at risk for child abuse or neglect, perhaps based on recent traumatic life changes, such as deployment or loss. Your program or community can organize a family education class specifically about dealing with deployment stress or loss. You can help families find respite care. These interventions can meet families where they are and help them meet their own needs.
- Your program might serve families who have already experienced abuse or neglect. These families need systematic, individualized supports. At this level, your program should connect families with community resources, mental health support for parents and children, mentoring programs, or specialized support groups.
Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect On-Site
It is likely that your program already has features in place to reduce the risk of child abuse and neglect. Many newer facilities are built with vision panels so individuals can see into the classroom from the hallway and outside. Restrooms for young children are built with low barriers rather than doors. The use of employee background checks, surveillance cameras, visitor sign-in procedures, and daily health checks are all part of a comprehensive system for preventing child abuse and neglect.
A comprehensive child-guidance policy and a touch policy also help keep children safe. Have a copy of your program’s touch policy and make it available to staff members. Each staff member must be fully aware of the policy and their responsibilities as professionals. Never permit staff to use harsh discipline practices. The following practices should never be used:
- Hitting, spanking, or other physical acts
- Isolation from adult sight
- Confinement, binding, humiliation, or verbal abuse
- Deprivation of food, outdoor play, or other program components
There is also a lot staff can do in their classrooms to promote safety for children. Design classrooms with safety in mind by arranging furniture so there are no blind spots and staff can see all children all the time. Regularly observe staff interacting with children. If you notice an adult acting strangely, act on your suspicions. Use the list provided in the Apply section to make sure you are doing all you can to keep children safe.
What Do I Do if I Suspect a Child is Abused or Neglected?
You and the staff have a responsibility to report a suspected case of abuse or neglect. It is not your job to confirm your suspicion or identify the person abusing the child. All you need to do is report the suspected abuse and/or neglect and allow investigators to do their jobs. Reporting requirements vary from state to state and program to program.
If you suspect abuse or neglect, you can call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). This line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can help you find emergency resources.
Follow all procedures required at your place of employment.
Listen as a staff member describes their experience reporting abuse based on a child’s disclosure.
What to Expect after the Call
Reporting suspected child abuse or neglect can be a stressful event for staff. It is important to mentally prepare yourself and your staff for what happens after the call.
Watch this video to hear about the emotions and events that might follow a report of child abuse or neglect. What advice does she give across these videos about making the call? Preparing for the call?
In most states, reports will be evaluated by Child Protective Services (CPS). If there is enough evidence to warrant an investigation, a caseworker will initiate the investigation. Children, families, and caregivers may be contacted and interviewed. Child Protective Services (CPS) will determine whether the claim is substantiated and whether the child is safe in the home. If the report of abuse involves alleged criminal acts, law enforcement will be contacted and the investigation will be conducted jointly.
It is important to prepare yourself and your staff emotionally for what follows a report. First, you need to help the reporter understand that they may never learn the final outcome of the report. They may only receive confirmation that the report is being investigated. Second, some families remove their child from the program after a report of child abuse or neglect. Both of these events are normal and can be expected. Some staff members fear that making a report may get the child in trouble and may lead to more abuse. It is also the case that you and the staff likely have a relationship with these families. It can be difficult to make a report when you are afraid of damaging the relationship or opening yourself up to retaliation. Remind staff they have done the right thing. Do not let fear of what might happen next stop them from doing what they can to protect the child.
It can be especially difficult to report suspected cases of abuse and neglect when the alleged perpetrator is one of your co-workers. Staff members might doubt themselves or question what they saw. They might worry about how that individual or other staff will treat them. They might be afraid of publicity or damaging the reputation of your program. They might even be discouraged from reporting by co-workers or leaders. Remind staff members it is their job to keep children safe and to speak for children. Always encourage staff members to trust their instincts. If they suspect abuse or neglect, they are required by law to make a report. As a trainer, be sensitive to the conflicting emotions staff members feel when they suspect abuse or neglect. Support staff members and help them know how to follow your program’s reporting procedures.
Listen as another child-development professional shares an experience with inappropriate behavior within a program.
Take care of yourself and encourage staff members to take care of themselves, too. Protecting a child who is experiencing trauma can be an exhausting and emotionally draining experience. As someone who is invested in the child’s wellbeing you may spend time wondering what to do and after making a report and whether you’ve done the right thing. Reporting child abuse and neglect can bring up personal experiences with trauma. Make a plan for self-care that may include seeking out the help of a mental-health specialist in your program or an external therapist. Your self-care plan may also include spending time with friends and family and keeping healthy habits like eating well, exercising and sleeping.
No one ever wants to suspect child abuse or neglect, but you must follow your instincts. If you suspect abuse or neglect, your call can save a life. Read the scenarios and answer the questions in the What If activity. Talk to a colleague about your responses. Then compare your answers to the suggested responses.
It is important to think about how you and your staff can protect children from abuse and neglect. Read this list and reflect on the steps you take. Talk with staff members about how each of you can continue to protect children from abuse and neglect. Share the Preventing Abuse Checklist with staff. Then use the Child Abuse & Neglect Prevention Best Practices Checklist to observe and monitor staff members’ understanding and use of your program’s policies.
Preventing Child Abuse in Classrooms and Programs
Child Abuse & Neglect Prevention Best Practices Checklist
American Academy Of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. 2011. Caring for Our Children: National health and safety performance standards; Guidelines for early care and education programs. 3rd edition. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; Washington, DC: American Public Health Association. https://nrckids.org
Children's Bureau. (2019). What Is Child Abuse and Neglect? Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/whatiscan.pdf
Craig, S. E. (2008). Reaching and Teaching Children who Hurt. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing, Co.
Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2021). Child Maltreatment 2019. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/research-data-technology/ statistics-research/child-maltreatment
Military OneSource homepage. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Defense. Available at https://www.militaryonesource.mil/
Strengthening Families Program homepage. (n.d.). https://www.strengtheningfamiliesprogram.org
The National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). Where We Stand on Child Abuse Prevention. https://www.naeyc.org/sites/default/files/globally-shared/downloads/PDFs/resources/position-statements/ChildAbuseStand.pdf
U.S. Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2018). State Laws on Child Abuse and Neglect. https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/laws-policies/can/