Child Neglect: Please get “EDUCATED”- Recognize the Signs and Take Action! By Mary L. Pulido, Ph.D.
April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month. The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC) urges everyone to take the time to learn how or recognize the signs of child neglect. More children die each year from child neglect than from child abuse. The media normally reports on child abuse fatalities so child abuse is clearer in the public’s mind. Child neglect is dangerous too and it is much different from child abuse. Child abuse occurs when a parent intentionally takes an action to cause harm to a child such as beating, kicking or sexual abuse. Child neglect, on the other hand, occurs when there is a LACK of action by a parent or caretaker to keep a child safe from harm.
A neglectful parent is not fulfilling the child’s basic needs for health and safety. A neglected child may not have enough food to eat, not be receiving proper medical care when they’re sick, or, not be attending school on a regular basis. Sometimes, a young child will be left home alone or in a locked car, both precarious situations. You will look at the child and realize that they don’t have the parental care they need to thrive.
It’s important to note that child neglect can occur without deliberate intent on the part of the parent. The parent’s motivation should not be factored into the decision to report a suspected case of neglect. For instance, the child may not have food or be left alone due a parent’s severe depression or other mental illness. A young parent may simply not know how to care for an infant and not feed the baby properly or get the proper medical attention if the baby is sick. But, if this lack of action is liable to harm the child, it should be reported. The child’s life could be in danger. Reporting the case can get the child and the parent the help that they need.
Sadly you should also be aware that in some instances, a child can experience both neglect and abuse. For example, children without adequate food, supervision, medical attention or not attending school, may also experience physical or sexual abuse. I just read a very moving, and at times, very upsetting memoir, “Educated” by Tara Westover. It is an account about how she and her siblings were raised in a survivalist family without receiving any medical care for their injuries, even for gashes and concussions or burns from explosions. They were treated at home with herbalism. Tara never attended school. The family was so isolated that there was no one to check on them regarding their attendance. Tara endured physical abuse as well in the home, and no one intervened. She experienced horrific neglect –and unfortunately — often abuse as well.
After enduring this life for many years, Tara taught herself enough math, grammar and science to get accepted to Brigham Young and she eventually graduated from Cambridge with a Ph.D. She persevered. She was truly fortunate and had amazing resilience. Most children simply don’t have the ability to forge ahead with so much working against them. That’s why you, and me, and everyone reading this blog needs to take action if they believe a child is at risk.
Steps to Take to Report Child Abuse or Neglect
So, what are the steps in making a report? The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC) recommends that all parents and concerned adults learn the basic steps and take action when necessary.
• If you witness a child being abused or neglected call 911. The police are trained to respond to these sensitive calls, and in doing so you may save a child’s life.
• Every state has a hotline number you can call to make a report if you suspect a child is at risk. Just type the name of your state and child abuse hotline in your web browser and the number will come up. The National Council of Child Abuse and Family Violence has a list for each state.. Here is a link to each state’s reporting number.
• You can also call Childhelp, the national child abuse hotline at -1–800–4-A-CHILD (1–800–422–4453)
When you make a report, the police or the state hotline will request information on what you have suspicions about or witnessed. You should mention the age and whereabouts of the child, the person who is perpetrating the abuse and the nature of the child’s injuries. The official will ask for your name and number, but you can choose to remain anonymous. Even if you are not certain about all of the specifics, MAKE THE CALL. It’s then up to the investigators to follow a course of action.
Yes, taking action will probably make you anxious — that’s understandable as it is such an important undertaking. Yet, you will rest easier knowing that due to your intervention, the child and his or her parent(s) can get help and attention. Remember, child abuse is preventable. Everyone must be part of the solution; let the solution start with you.