When I saw the blue pinwheels last year, gently spinning in the wind, the sun glistening off of them making them shine, I thought, "How pretty!" There was no sign indicating their purpose, but this year, I found out what they were all about. (This picture was obtained from the website of the local newspaper and is not my own.)
In a county of only about 30,000 people, it's shameful that 532 children had been abused during 2008. Actually, this number is down from 2007 when there were 700 reported children abused. It makes me wonder how many fell throught the system though and their abuse was not discovered.
Because of my professional credentials and my degree in human services, I am a mandated reporter. This means that if I even so much as suspect child abuse, I must call the county Department of Job and Family Services and report my suspicions.
I'll never forget the first report that I had to make. My son came home from school very angry because he heard that his 15 year old best friend had been in an argument with his father, and that his father had punched him three times, twice in the stomach and once in the face. I was so sad for this dear boy who was often a guest in my home, and I was beyond furious at the father. The next morning as soon as JFS opened up, I called and asked to speak to someone in Child Protective Services. My hands were shaking and I was crying as I did this, but I had to get involved, not just because I was required to do so, but also because this was the right thing to do!
A child protective services worker went to the boy's high school to speak with him. They asked him if he wanted his father out of the home or not, and he said he didn't want to make him leave, and since he was a teen, he was allowed to make the decision to stay under the same roof. His father was arrested and charged with domestic violence, and bailed out of jail. He was also required to attend 12 weeks of anger management. Though my son and his friends were very angry at me for reporting the incident as they felt I should have "let that be their business," I never once regreted reporting it. To the best of my knowledge, he never again laid a hand on this boy or his other children.
I have also had to make reports through my job. When a young mother reported that she had once punched her child, I had to report it. When a teen boy said that he had sex with a woman almost three times his age, I had to report it. It's so much easier to report after that first time.
So should you get involved if you see something suspicious? Absolutely! Even if it's just a suspicion of abuse or neglect, it needs to be reported. All that will result is that an investigation will be made. If the child is not being abused and is being appropriately cared for, the case is closed. If nothing else, it leaves a paper trail in case they are reported again. If they discover that there is indeed abuse going on, then charges will be made.
In my profession, I have heard of the most horrible stories of abuse. I heard stories of emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. What if you had the power to stop this abuse, even if you didn't know for sure that it was going on?
Here are the steps you can take: If there is immediate danger, such as you actually witness something physical going on, or for example, you see a toddler out in the dead of winter in just his diaper, then call 9-1-1 immediately! Otherwise, you can call your county Department of Job and Family Services and ask to speak to someone in the child protective services. Some people are afraid that they will have to give their name. No, you don't have to. You can make an anonymous report. I have always given my name, especially when it was part of my job, but its not required that you do so.
Keep in mind that if there has been a confidentiality agreement, such as I had with my clients, that confidentiality is allowed to be broken in the case of abuse or suspected abuse.
Though it's sad to have to even discuss this topic, keep in mind that by getting involved, you could help abuse to end in the life of a helpless child, and you might even save their life.
Be the instrument of help in their life!
Ooops, I almost forgot to direct you to Sally's blog, Smiling Sally for more Blue Monday posts!