If You Suspect Abuse

    A Guide for Concerned Friends, Family, and Protective Parents


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    How This Guide Will Help?

    For the past twenty years, I’ve worked in the field of mental health as a social worker and counselor, providing crisis intervention to all types of families. Twelve of those years were spent conducting Child Protective Services (CPS) investigations for a government agency in California.

    The purpose of this guide is to provide you with the information and tools you’ll need in order to protect a child. You’ll also learn how you can help and support the family during this difficult time.

     Who Should Use This Guide

    This guide is for anyone who suspects a child is being abused or neglected. The child may be a relative or perhaps they are a close friend of your son or daughter. Or maybe you’re the child’s parent and you suspect a relative or an unrelated adult is abusing your child. You may even be in a relationship with the person you suspect is being abusive.

    No matter your relationship to the child, this guide will help you make informed and confident decisions on how to manage the situation.

     I will guide you step-by-step through the process of:


    • Addressing Fears & Concerns About Reporting
    • Knowing Which Acts Are Considered Abuse
    • What to Do If a Child Discloses Abuse
    • Spotting the Signs of Neglect & Abuse
    • Making a Child Abuse Report
    • What Happens in CPS Investigation
    • How You Can Help

    Guide Chapters

    Chapter 1

    The Misconception About Abuse

    Chapter 2

    How This Guide Will Help

    Chapter 3

    What is Abuse?

    Chapter 4

    Facts vs. Myths

    Chapter 5

    How to Spot Signs of Abuse & Neglect

    Chapter 6

    What to Do if You Suspect Abuse



    Chapter 7

    Common Concerns & Questions

    Chapter 8

    How to Make a Child Abuse Report

    Chapter 9

    What You Need to Know About Child Protective Services

    Chapter 10

    What Happens After a Child Abuse Report is Made

    Chapter 11

    How You Can Help

    Chapter 12

    Empowerment Tools

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    Guide Excerpt

    What To Do if You Suspect Abuse

     If you’re concerned a child you know is being abused, then you’re probably experiencing some fear and uncertainty. It’s common to feel hesitation or resistance to taking action. It’s also stressful to think about what might happen if you make a child abuse report. So, let’s walk through this process together so you’ll be confident in taking the next step.

    In this section, I give you tips on how to talk with a child you suspect was abuse and how to handle a disclosure from that child. A disclosure is when a child confides in you they’ve been hurt or neglected by a parent or caretaker. Since many children are too afraid to disclose, I’ll also address some common concerns and questions you may have about your suspicions. Next, I’ll walk you through the process of calling in a child abuse report.


    When a Child Discloses They Have Been Hurt or Neglected

    There’s no point in sugar-coating this—you will experience a variety of emotions when a child tells you they’ve been abused. Your mind will race. You may feel a sense of outrage, fear, sadness, disgust, and especially disbelief. The best thing to do in this moment is to remain calm. Put all your focus on the child.

    A child’s willingness to share and how much they tell you is largely dependent on how you respond. If you react in an emotional way, they may shut down and stop talking. Your goal is to respond in a comforting, supportive, and non-judgmental way. In this moment, it is not about you. It can’t be about you. Put your emotions on pause and focus on two things: listening and clarifying.

    The following are guidelines to help you during a disclosure. Whether you plan to initiate a conversation with the child about your suspicions or if you want to follow-up an earlier conversation; be sure to use these guidelines. They’ll help you understand what happened without it feeling like your interrogating the child. Putting these guidelines to use will also put the child at ease and make them feel like they have adult support.



    Take a long deep breath. In fact, take a couple. I want you to imagine you’re a kid and you’re about to tell an adult your biggest, scariest secret. How would you want that adult to respond? A calm tone of voice, direct eye contact, leaning towards the child (not away); all of these responses will help the child feel safe talking with you. Try not to show or express feelings of shock or disbelief.



    If you notice there are other people around, ask the child if they would like to speak privately. Kids don’t want other people to know their secret. If they say “yes” find a location that’s private but be sure to let another adult know where you’re at. The best-case scenario is where you both can be seen but not heard.



    Basically, try to refrain from asking questions that can be answered with a yes or no. Yes or no questions won’t elicit much information. Whereas open-ended questions require complete responses or elaboration. It can get a little tricky, especially because we’re used to asking yes or no question. You’ll likely be nervous so the right question may not immediately come to mind. Here are some examples to help you choose the right questions to ask.


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