Child abuse can occur in any town, neighborhood or family. In 2009, there were nearly 25,000 substantiated cases of child abuse in Indiana. It's your responsibility to protect your children from abuse. Here are some steps you can take to keep them safe.
What is defined as child abuse?
Child abuse and neglect, and child maltreatment, mean the same thing. The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) defines this as "any recent act or failure on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm." This includes physical, emotional or sexual abuse as well as neglect.
Legally, everyone is required to report suspected child abuse. Just because you make a report due to suspicions or concerns doesn't mean you are confirming abuse. The situation will be further evaluated.
In an immediate emergency, call 911.
Otherwise, call the Indiana Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556. While it is helpful to give your name, you do not have to do so.
What can I do as a parent to protect my children?
First, begin the monitoring process early so your children are comfortable as they get older and are not upset or confused by questions you may ask. Check out the adults who interact with them to the best of your ability. This means knowing whom they spend time with and the people who interact with them.
If your child is sleeping at a friend's house, talk to the parents. Learn if older siblings will have people over or if other adults will be present. Understand who will be supervising.
For summer camps, ask about the staff screening procedures and the adults who might come in contact with your children.
Choose group situations whenever possible to minimize one-adult/one-child situations.
Monitor Internet use. Sometimes offenders try to lure children into physical contact.
If it doesn't feel right or appropriate, investigate further or don't allow it—for example, sleepovers at a coach's house.
Also, set up a system with your children so that, if they get into trouble, they can call you with a code phrase such as "Are we going to the park tomorrow?" Assure them that you will come and get them with no questions asked.
What should I watch for?
Watch for significant changes in behavior, new or unexpected fears, change in school performance, significant changes in friends or inappropriate adult attention and any statements that suggest inappropriate things are happening. Ask about what is going on in the child's life and be supportive.