Last week we discussed listening to a child of divorce. Part of listening to children of divorce includes noticing if they are giving you clues about being abused or neglected.
Children of divorce will try to protect their parent if the parent is the abuser or the parent’s significant other os the abuser. This is especially true if it is the parent the child doesn’t get to see a lot. Or if the abuser has threatened them, they may try and hide the abuse and or neglect.
In the case of abuse
In the case of child abuse children many times will make up excuses for why they have bruises or abrasions. You might want to take a minute to document the situation. When you only see a child every week or every other Sunday for an hour or two it might be hard to remember if they had bruises or talked about such things before. However, if it is something suspicious, document it.
How to document
Use ink, not a pencil to record your documentation
Put it on a calendar and or date the documentation
Write exactly what the child said
Do not use terms such as, “I think” or “I feel”
Draw a body and mark where the bruise or abrasion was that the child mentioned
Include the names of any other adult that heard the conversation
Include what was going on at the time you picked up on the potential abuse such as story time or snack time
Record other children’s names who might have overheard the conversation
Children are clumsy and children get hurt, some more than others. If a child only shows up every so often and each time there are new wounds or always an old wound healing, take into consideration the child is being abused. Never hesitate to call the authorities if you suspect child abuse.
Know the laws in your state*
National hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)
Know the policies of your church and your state. Some states will allow you to report the suspected abuse to the senior pastor or other church leaders. Other states define anyone who suspects abuse as a mandated reporter.
Everyone working with children or ministering to children must keep up on the laws in your state. For example in Florida, where I reside, in 2012 the law changed to read: “The Protection of Vulnerable Persons law ups the ante on the state’s previous reporting obligation, requiring anyone who suspects that a child has been abused to report those suspicions to the Florida Abuse Hotline; the reporting requirement formerly applied only when the alleged abuser was the parent or caregiver. The law also increases the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony for failing to report, with financial penalties increasing as well.”
Reporting the abuse or neglect
Make sure to have the child’s full name
Name of birth parents or guardian
Date of birth for child and parent
School where the child attends
Where the child resides (mom, dad, primary caregiver such as grandparent)
The address and phone number of the person responsible for the child’s care
Your documentation that can be read to the investigator
Name and address, phone number of your church and your personal information
Reporting can be a delicate issue. Make sure you only discuss the issue with your church staff or other need-to-know individuals. Always follow the advice of your church staff and the guidelines of your church’s policies.
As for the child, each time you listen to a child you are saying to the child, “You matter.” When you can recall parts of conversation from the week before you are saying to the child, “You matter to me.” And when you inquire about specific situations from one time to the next time you are implying, “You matter to those of us in your church family.”
When a child matters to you, the child will begin to realize he or she matters to God.
*To access the requirements in your state please go to https://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/manda.cfm