I really hope that we can make this a sticky.
Far too many people scream "OMG Call CPS!!" and at the same time too many people don't know when to call or think they should keep it to themselves.
I really hope that this thread gives you the information that you need to be able to make the decision of when to and when not to call.
There are numbers at the end of this post to help.
What is child abuse and neglect?
A federal law called the Child Abuse Protection and Treatment Act (CAPTA) says
that at a minimum, child abuse and neglect is “any recent act, or failure to act, on
the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death or serious physical or
emotional harm, or sexual abuse or exploitation, or presents an imminent risk of
There are several types of abuse and neglect. The definitions below were
adapted from CAPTA (some states may have slightly different definitions for
abuse and neglect):
• Physical Abuse—is causing injury to a child by beating, kicking, biting,
burning, shaking, or other ways of harming the child. Sometimes even when a
parent does not intend to hurt the child, a child’s injuries may be legally labeled
as abuse. For example, the injury may have been the result of over-discipline or
physical punishment. The law holds the parent responsible for the safety of the
child even when someone else in the home causes the injury.
• Child Neglect—is failure to provide for a child’s basic needs. This includes a
child’s physical, educational, medical and emotional needs. Sometimes neglect of
a child happens when a parent has a drug or alcohol abuse problem or some
form of mental illness. Not having enough money to take care of a child’s basic
needs does not mean a parent is being neglectful. It may mean that the parent
When deciding if a child is neglected, the agency worker usually considers
cultural practices or differences. This is to make sure that a family is not wrongly
accused of abuse or neglect.
• Sexual Abuse—includes any type of sexual activity or sexual contact by a parent
or other caregiver with a child. Taking advantage of a child through prostitution
or pornography is also considered to be sexual abuse.
• Emotional Abuse—includes actions of a caregiver that can hurt a child’s
emotional health, such as screaming and name calling. Other acts such as
rejecting or withholding affection are also forms of emotional abuse.
Warning signs of emotional abuse in children
Warning signs of physical abuse in children
- Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
- Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive).
- Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
- Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums).
Warning signs of neglect in children
- Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts.
- Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen.
- Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt.
- Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home.
- Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days.
Warning signs of sexual abuse in children
- Clothes are ill-fitting, filthy, or inappropriate for the weather.
- Hygiene is consistently bad (unbathed, matted and unwashed hair, noticeable body odor).
- Untreated illnesses and physical injuries.
- Is frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments.
- Is frequently late or missing from school.
Physical abuse vs. Discipline
- Trouble walking or sitting.
- Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age, or even seductive behavior.
- Makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason.
- Doesn’t want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities.
- An STD or pregnancy, especially under the age of 14.
- Runs away from home.
In physical abuse, unlike physical forms of discipline, the following elements are present:
Child Abuse Hotlines:
- Unpredictability. The child never knows what is going to set the parent off. There are no clear boundaries or rules. The child is constantly walking on eggshells, never sure what behavior will trigger a physical assault.
- Lashing out in anger. Physically abusive parents act out of anger and the desire to assert control, not the motivation to lovingly teach the child. The angrier the parent, the more intense the abuse.
- Using fear to control behavior. Parents who are physically abusive may believe that their children need to fear them in order to behave, so they use physical abuse to “keep their child in line.” However, what children are really learning is how to avoid being hit, not how to behave or grow as individuals.
If you truly believe that a child is being abused in any of the ways listed, please don't keep it to yourself. You could save the life of a child.
If your call would be to get back at somebody, or is just because you don't agree with their parenting styles, then please make an informed decision and remember that although there are no consequences towards you for making the call, the time that you are taking away from the workers who are already over loaded keeps them from getting to children who honestly need the help.