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Winter 2008 Rapport: From the Leadership Files

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Recognizing child abuse and neglect


Billie J. (Baldwin) Ferguson, LCPC (M.A. 2000) is a foster and adoptive family services caseworker at Harford County Department of Social Services, Bel Air, Md.

Most of us have felt uneasy at times about the way a child was being treated. Feeling this particular kind of worry about a child in your own church can be disheartening, a little scary and awkward. Unfortunately, child abuse and neglect can exist in our own churches. In my state, a child of a family of faithful church attendees died from severe neglect. No one from the church had reported the neglect.

What exactly is child abuse and neglect? Child abuse is the physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or exploitation of a child. Neglect is the negligence of a child’s welfare by a person who is responsible for the child. This can include failure to provide appropriate clothing for the climate, medical care, food, a clean and safe home, regular education, and/or supervision that is age appropriate to the child.

How can I know if a child is being abused or neglected? Look for a combination of any of the following indicators over time: unexplained marks, burns, bite marks, cuts or bruises; resistance to going home; fear of adults in general or specific adults, such as all men or all women; difficulty concentrating; apathy or depression; inappropriate sexual behavior or knowledge for the age of the child; clothing that is not suited to the weather; being consistently dirty; extreme hunger; lack of supervision; and/or a sudden change in behavior. If you have a “gut reaction” about a situation, look for other indicators.

The most important thing you can do is report suspected child abuse or neglect. No one wants to report abuse falsely, but it is always better to allow professionals to investigate a situation that seems risky to a child.

How do I report child abuse or neglect? Call one of the following:

  • local police or sheriff’s office
  • local office of social services or
  • family and children’s services
  • Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD

What happens after I call? In most cases reporting is anonymous. Even if you give your name to the police or social services, the information is confidential. After a report is taken, qualified professionals investigate the suspected abuse or neglect. Based on the findings, appropriate services will be offered to the family.

Updated: Monday, December 10, 2007 2:49 PM

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