If Child Custody Is At Stake
If you are a parent and the person you suspect is your spouse or ex-spouse or your ex-spouses’ partner, and child custody is an issue – before reporting, call Mothers Against Child Sexual Abuse www.againstsexualabuse.org for a free phone consultation or contact Jewish Community Watch for assistance. The founder of Mothers Against Child Sexual Abuse’s book, “Childhood – It Should Not Hurt!” details the complicated issues of reporting & custody battles when sexual abuse is a factor.
First off – you only need reasonable suspicion to report. You do not need solid evidence. Before anything and as soon as you suspect something – Do not ask the child any questions. The professionals investigating will fear that you may unintentionally influence the child’s report and this can lead to issues with them believing the child is telling the truth.
Be ready to document everything you do during this process. Dates/times, get report numbers and copies of all paperwork that is available to you.
- If you are not sure if your child has been abused and the child is especially young, and especially if the suspected abuser is a family member that you cannot simply keep your child away from, you may want to consider seeking a clinical psychologist experienced with child sexual abuse. It is a sad reality that Child Protective Services (CPS) and law enforcement may not properly investigate a report and you find yourself dealing with a “closed report” and a sense of loss being unable to protect your child. If your child discloses abuse to a professional, they are obligated to report to the police and it may be the necessary evidence you will need to keep your child safe.
- Always call the police and file a report. Always! CPS & the law enforcement do not always communicate as best they should, but you need to get the potential perpetrator’s name into the system.
- Call Child Protective Services. There is a mandated period of time that they are required to respond. Find out what it is in your area.
- Contact your local children’s advocacy center, rape crisis center, or domestic violence center and get the 411 on the process of the investigation and what you can expect. Often, they will not conduct a medical examination unless the child makes an “outcry” of their abuse.
- Remain as calm as you can. The more emotional/hysterical you are about the abuse, the more you put yourself to look “unstable” in the eyes of a CPS worker who does not have sympathy for your circumstances. Especially if the abuser is a skilled groomer, they will use your emotional state against you. They will pull a “she’s crazy,” “they’re vindictive” ploy while they remain as cool as a cucumber. You can still be firm and express the seriousness of your concern, but if you lose control it might bite you in the end. If you feel that CPS is not handling your case properly, consult an attorney.
If the perpetrator is a family member, an ex-husband, etc., you must be extremely careful. Some social workers are trained to be more suspicious of these reports because of the increased number of potentially “false claims” against a spouse. You need to show them that you’re not doing this out of spite.
In MA there is a series of interviews that a child advocacy center will have with the victim in order to give them the best chance of reporting their abuse properly and truthfully. This is extremely important with young victims. You, as the reporter, must advocate for their communication needs. Understand what your options are when it comes to how and when your child is being interviewed.
If the investigation seems to be mishandled or isn’t going anywhere, you have options:
- Make sure to file a report for every new concern that you have. File it with the police, then CPS.
- You can file complaints against CPS.
- You can contact the District Attorney’s office because when reports of a suspected perpetrator keep coming into their office it will get their attention and calling the DA lets them know you’re serious about your concern and how it’s being investigated.
- You can reach out to Jewish Community Watch when the child protection system fails to protect a child. We offer information, advocacy, guidance, and assistance to adults who are trying to keep the child safe.
- If the child is being sexually assaulted and you feel that a specimen sample can be taken orally, vaginally, anally take the child to an emergency room – Google “pediatric sane” and your state to learn more about access to these services.
- Reach out to a lawyer for advice.
The Facts On Reporting And The Process
All 50 states require professionals to report reasonable suspicion of child sexual abuse.
Here is a link that specifies the laws of each state for anyone who suspects abuse: Child Welfare State Statutes
Here is a link that specifies each state’s definition of all forms of child abuse & neglect: Child Welfare State Definitions
An Overview Of The Reporting Process From Child Welfare Information Gateway:
A Victim-Centered Approach –
Professionals often feel pulled in several directions in their work on child sexual abuse cases. Although most professionals want to help the victim, potentially competing concerns include the feeling that sex offenders should be punished, a concern that the offender may be dangerous to others, a belief that sexual abuse is a mental health problem, a concern about the impact of disclosure upon the mother, a belief that the mother is partly responsible for the abuse, an awareness of the effect of sexual abuse and intervention on non-victim siblings, and a feeling that everyone in the family needs help.
Taking a victim-centered approach is a way of dealing with conflicting goals in sexual abuse intervention. A victim-centered approach is one in which considerations of what is in the victim’s best interest override competing concerns.
What is in the victim’s best interest? That may vary depending on the case and it may not always be easily discernible. Ascertaining the victim’s best interest usually begins by finding out what the victim wants to happen, the older the child the more weight given to the victim’s wishes. Does she want to be removed from the home or have the offender removed? Does she want the offender to be prosecuted or to get some help? Of course, there are times when what the victim wants is not in her best interest, because it risks her safety or psychological well-being. In such cases, the child’s best interest should be pursued, but with a developmentally appropriate explanation to the child about why her wishes cannot be granted.
Strategies for Ensuring That Intervention Is in the Victim’s Best Interest
When an investigation substantiates child sexual abuse, professionals must decide what to do. Basic issues for the child are safety and rehabilitation. In addition, decisions about the use of the courts to protect the child and to prosecute the offender impinge heavily on the child’s well being. Related to these issues are questions about family separation. Does the family remain intact, does the offender leave or is the child removed? Professionals agree that it is preferable to remove incest offenders from the home. However, there are cases in which, to protect the child, to prevent her/his psychological abuse, or to relieve the victim of the experience of family turmoil, the child needs to be placed outside the family. If the family has been separated, the question of family reunification has to be addressed.
There are two basic strategies that can enhance the probability that case decisions will be made in the child’s best interest. The first has already been mentioned: the child should be asked what she/he wants. Secondly, case decisions should be preceded by a careful assessment and should be made in consultation with a multidisciplinary team, whenever feasible.
Two agencies handle most reports of child abuse:
- Child Protective Services (in some states this agency has a different name)
- The Police
Sections on this page have been adapted from: TheMamaBearEffect