No one ever wants to suspect child abuse or neglect. There are times, though, when you must follow your instincts. If you suspect abuse or neglect, your call can save a life. Read the following scenarios and answer the questions.
Scenario 1: “Your relationship with Tish, your co-teacher has been rocky since the beginning. She does not always show up to work when she is scheduled, and she calls in sick more often than you would like. Today she has seemed really distracted. She knows she is not supposed to have her cell phone out, but she has checked it at least ten times this morning. You’ve asked her if everything is ok, but she just nods and keeps to herself. On the playground, she looks at her phone one more time and goes back inside without a word. You are now alone with 18 children on the playground. While you are summoning help, you see an accident on the basketball court. A child appears to be injured.
- Is Tish’s behavior an example of neglect? Why or why not?Yes, Tish’s inaction has put children at risk. She is not providing any supervision or appropriate care to the children. She left you out of ratio, and children are getting injured.
- What steps would you take to respond to this situation?Immediately call for help. Do your best to keep children safe. Comfort injured children and apply first aid as needed. Report the situation to your supervisor [and, if on a military base, the DoD hotline].
Scenario 2: Patrick is 19 years old and has recently joined the staff at your school age program. He seems to spend a lot of time in the “lounge” area of your program playing video games and hanging out on couches with the kids. Several of the preteen girls seem to seek out his company. When you look over towards the lounge area today, you see several 12 year old girls tickling him and one is trying to sit on his lap. He looks uncomfortable, but he is playing along.
- Is Patrick’s behavior appropriate? What behaviors need addressed?No, Patrick’s behavior is not appropriate. At the most basic level, he is focusing his supervision on only one part of the program. His help and attention is most likely needed in other areas. The biggest problem, however, is allowing or encouraging girls to sit on his lap. He is an authority figure and any potentially sexual contact with children is inappropriate— regardless of who initiates the contact.
- What steps would you take to respond to this situation?Talk to Patrick right away, make sure he and the girl separate, and notify your administrator of what you saw. Patrick must be made aware that it is not ok to have physical/affectionate contact with children. He should review your program’s touch policy with an administrator.
Scenario 3: It is Taylor’s eighth birthday today. She is an energetic and passionate child. She is a leader in the program, but unfortunately she usually uses her leadership skills to get other children in trouble. You know she pushes your buttons sometimes, but today she really seems to be bothering your fellow staff member, Melinda. Taylor won’t stop talking about tonight’s birthday party and cupcakes. It has been the only topic of conversation today because some children were invited and others weren’t. When Melinda hears Taylor tell a girl, “You’re not invited to my party because you’re too fat,” Melinda’s face turns red. Melinda grabs Taylor roughly by the arm and pulls her away from the other girl. She gets in Taylor’s face and says, “Listen, you rude little b*tch…”
- What behaviors are problematic?Melinda’s behavior makes us suspect she might be capable of emotional or physical abuse. At the very least, she uses inappropriate and harsh guidance practices. It is never ok to grab a child forcefully. It is also never ok to call a child a curse word and speak disrespectfully to a child.
- What steps would you take to respond to this situation?You must intervene to ensure Taylor’s safety. Step in immediately to separate Melinda and Taylor. Protecting a child is worth risking your relationship with your co-worker. Say, “Taylor, I know you are excited about your birthday, but it is not ok to be disrespectful to anyone. That’s true for adults, too. Melinda, I think you should go take a break in the office.” Report what you saw. Notify your supervisor immediately and describe what you saw. Melinda’s parents will also need notified about this event and your program’s response.
Scenario 4: Clark walks in to pick up his son, Dakota, from your program. “Dakota, get your fat, lazy butt in gear. Your brother’s got a soccer game tonight. We need to get moving.” As he shuffles him out the door, you hear him say again, “Could you get any slower? Man, if I were as lazy as you, my dad would have beat the lazy out of me.”
- What evidence makes you suspect child abuse or neglect?Clark uses very negative language towards his son. He belittles him. He calls him names. He describes Dakota as lazy. He seems to threaten beating Dakota. At the very least, it sounds like Clark has a history of receiving beatings as a child.
- What steps would you take to respond to this situation?Write down exactly what you heard and said. Write down the time and date. If you see a pattern of abusive or hurtful language, you should make a report. If the behavior seems to escalate and you feel that Dakota is at risk for harm, make a report immediately. If the behavior becomes physical (Clark grabs, shoves, or hits Dakota), make a report immediately.
Scenario 5: The phone rings endlessly when you call Pablo’s house. He hasn’t been at your program or in school for the past 2 weeks, and you have not been able to contact his mom. The school reports that they have been unable to contact Pablo’s family, as well. Your supervisor asks whether Pablo’s family has moved or withdrawn from the program. As you are about to hang up, Pablo and his mother walk in. When you ask Pablo’s mom where they have been and if everything is alright, she just shrugs. You ask Pablo whether he has been sick. He just says, “No,” and looks at his mom.
- What evidence makes you suspect child abuse or neglect?There is no explanation for Pablo’s absence. Allowing a child to miss school for long periods of time without an explanation can be considered neglect.
- What steps would you take to respond to this situation?It is important to learn more about this situation. Do your best to talk to Pablo’s mother. Make a referral to community agencies or your Military Family Advocacy Program. If you see any other signs of abuse after an absence (fading bruises, burns or cuts in various stages of healing), make a report immediately.
Scenario 6: Cheyenne’s mom, Brandi, has just returned from a lengthy deployment. She was injured in the line of duty and has not been able to return to work. Cheyenne lived with her grandma during the deployment, but she has now returned back to live with Brandi. Since Brandi’s homecoming, Cheyenne’s attendance at your program has decreased. When Cheyenne does come to your program after school, she does not seem to want to leave when Brandi comes to pick her up. Brandi seems detached and rarely says more than a word or two to you. Brandi does not offer Cheyenne any greetings or hugs; she simply goes to Cheyenne’s locker, gets her belongings, and says, “Come on.” You have also noticed that Cheyenne looks very dirty and acts very hungry. This was not the case before Brandi’s deployment.
- What evidence makes you suspect child abuse or neglect?Brandi’s behavior has changed since returning from deployment. She does not seem interested or connected to her daughter. Cheyenne does not seem to be taking baths or eating enough food at home. The stress related to deployment, injury, and reintegration puts Brandi at higher risk for child abuse or neglect. It is possible that she is experiencing depression and isolation.
- What steps would you take to respond to this situation?Record your observations and make a report immediately if you see a pattern of behavior that indicates neglect. In the meantime, talk to your supervisor about the resources available in your community to help Brandi adjust to life as a single mom after deployment. Encourage Brandi to contact a Military Family Advocacy Program for support.