TRC Read to Kids

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Silence is dangerous: TRC volunteers learn about reporting suspected child abuse

It’s all over the news, and it should be. Children are abused in our communities every day. According to Childhelp, child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education. Every year, more than three million reports of child abuse are made involving some six million children. Most children know their abusers. Every day, five children in the U.S. die as a result of abuse and neglect. For the millions who survive it, the lasting impact of abuse haunts its victims for the rest of their lives.

And yet, we hear stories about folks who suspected abuse but didn’t report it. Why not? The reasons might include the following:
  • Fear that they may be mistaken and will be making a false accusation.
  • Fear that the child will suffer retaliation from the abuser.
  • Fear that the child will be summarily removed from his or her home or otherwise be victimized by the investigation process.
  • Fear of retaliation from the abuser on the reporter.
  • A strong desire NOT to get involved in another family’s issues.
  • Lack of information on what constitutes abuse and how and to whom it should be reported. 

At TRC, we work with hundreds of kids and parents every year. At some of our sites, our volunteers get to know kids over the course of several years. At our May 2012 Volunteer Seminar, Althea Simpson, from the Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services, spoke with 35 of TRC’s Read-Aloud volunteers about recognizing and reporting child abuse and neglect as well as the effect that witnessing domestic violence can have on children. She discussed at length with our volunteers what happens when someone places a report and why folks are reluctant to do so.

We learned the following:

  • The definition of abuse and neglect is changing to be more comprehensive, and includes neglect as well as physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
  • Anyone, not just mandatory reporters, can report suspected abuse. In Virginia, if you desire, your name as a reporter will not be revealed to the family unless the investigation results in court proceedings.
  • Reporting suspected abuse does not automatically result in a child being removed from his or her home. In fact, while policies vary from state to state, in Virginia, an effort is made to strengthen and support families and prevent further abuse of the child once a child’s immediate safety has been assessed and addressed. 
  • Sometimes a child is removed from the home, and the family is offered support services including home visits, parenting help and counseling.
As a result of the May training, the 35 volunteers and the TRC staff members attending the session became mandatory reporters, not just at TRC Read-Alouds, but any place they might encounter suspected abuse.

As a Read-Aloud volunteer, you can help make our Read-Alouds a safe place for kids by remembering the following:
  • Observe and listen carefully to the kids.
  • Take the time to notice changes in demeanor or behavior.
  • Report any suspected abuse to site staff and appropriate social services.
    • DC Children and Family Services Agency: 202-671-SAFE
    • Virginia Child Protective Services: 800-552-7096
  • Respect a child’s right to privacy. Discuss concerns only with site staff and appropriate social service agencies.
  • Model respectful, kind and appropriate behavior with the children, staff, parents and other volunteers.
If you were one of the 35 volunteers who attended the training, share what you learned with your fellow volunteers. If you did not attend the training, check out Childhelp’s website for information about how to recognize and report suspected abuse. 

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

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