Reporting Child Abuse Transcript

President Barron

On behalf of Penn State, thank you for participating in this online training on the very difficult topic of child abuse and reporting procedures. By completing this course, you’ll be better-informed and better able to guard against the abuse that damages too many young lives.

Penn State is committed to supporting the identification and reporting of child abuse, and to keeping our campuses safe for people of all ages. I know that you and all Penn Staters share this commitment and understand the moral imperative of doing the right thing – the first time, every time. This course is intended to make that easier.

These online modules will help you understand your responsibilities under Pennsylvania law and Penn State policies, and they will outline the process for identifying, responding to and reporting child abuse. This is just one component of our university-wide effort to revisit all standards, policies and programs to ensure that they meet not only the law, but a higher standard at Penn State.

I realize this may be upsetting, difficult material to cover, but it’s essential that the entire Penn State community come together to fight child abuse. I ask for your support in working to make our campuses safer and to protect the well being of all children.

Again, thank you for your time and your dedication.

Sandy Weaver, M.S.

Protecting children is everyone's responsibility. Whether we work directly with children or not, part of our role here at Penn State is to keep children safe. Anyone who has a reasonable cause to suspect that a child is being abused must report that suspicion.

Because children often hesitate to report or disclose abuse for a variety of reasons, it is essential to focus on the role that adults play in the identification and reporting of child abuse.

The training in which you are about to participate is designed to provide you with the information about your responsibilities under Pennsylvania law and Penn State policies, how to recognize the signs or indicators of child abuse, how to respond to a disclosure of child abuse and how to report child abuse to the proper authorities.

We understand this training may impact you personally, and if that is the case, we have provided information within the additional resources tab to help you manage your distress. Thank you for taking the time to care and learn more about your role at Penn State regarding keeping children safe.

Dr. Benjamin H. Levi

Child abuse has been recognized by the Centers for Disease Control as a public health concern that causes significant medical and mental health consequences - many of which affect not just children, but also the adults they become.

Nearly SIX MILLION children are reported for suspected maltreatment each year in the United States.

An average of FIVE children - most of them under the age of four - die every day from abuse or neglect.

Estimates indicate that ONE OUT OF EVERY FIVE children in the U.S. will be sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday.

Sadly, studies show that most victims of sexual abuse do not disclose their mistreatment for at least a year. One-third of all victims never tell anyone about the abuse they have endured. Children who DO disclose sexual abuse are often not believed, causing them to suffer both the effects of their abuse and the betrayal of the trust they once held for parents, caregivers, or other adults.

The deep, long-lasting scars of maltreatment inevitably change a child’s life trajectory. Victims of abuse are much more likely to develop self-destructive habits and lifestyles, early chronic illness, disability, and premature death. They are also more likely to pass their inflicted injuries on to the next generation of victims.

The earlier abuse is identified, the greater chance children have to heal and avoid perpetuating this cycle of destructive behavior. But there is much to be done.

To keep children safe, WE ALL NEED TO BE VIGILANT.

Lucy Johnston-Walsh, JD, MSW

Pennsylvania enacted the Child Protective Services law to encourage reporting of child abuse, to establish an agency to investigate reports of abuse and to provide protection for children from further abuse.

The law defines what constitutes child abuse in Pennsylvania as well as who is legally obligated to report abuse and how a report must be made. Pennsylvania's definition of child abuse includes bodily injuries, sexual abuse, mental injury, physical neglect, and placing a child at risk of injury.

Under Pennsylvania law, generally mandated reporters are people who come into contact with children on a regular basis during the course of their work and who have a reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a victim of child abuse. If you are required to report abuse and you fail to do so, you can be criminally charged. Penn State's policy requires all university employees who have reasonable suspicion of abuse to make a report with some very limited exceptions.

Keep in mind, you only need to have a reasonable suspicion of abuse and you are not the person who determines whether the abuse actually occurred. Also, your identity as the person making the report is not revealed and you are immune from liability as long as you make the report in good faith.

Dr. Maria McColgan

We all have a role in recognizing and reporting child abuse and neglect. In order to fulfill this role, it is important to know and understand the types of abuse and neglect that children may face so that we can recognize abuse early and prevent further trauma.

There are various forms of abuse children may be exposed to, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect.

I am often asked, “What signs should I be looking out for?” While every case is different there are some common things you should watch for. Any sudden changes in a child’s behavior may be a marker of abuse and neglect or other traumatic experiences. These include, but are not limited to, angry or depressed behavior, sudden withdrawal from peers and family, changes in grades, promiscuous behavior, suicidal thoughts or actions and running away. Physical signs may include chronic headaches or chronic abdominal pain.

As difficult as it may be, we must continue to talk about abuse and neglect in order to bring it out from the shadows of secrecy that have allowed it to continue for so many years. Together, we can prevent abuse and neglect and help make sure that each and every child is raised in a happy, healthy environment!

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig

What kind of person abuses a child? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer; so we all need to become familiar with the range of risk factors and warning signs, while remembering that their presence may not always be proof of abuse.

Sexual abuse can be committed by a family or a non-family member, and in most cases, the child knows their abuser. Physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect, by definition, occur at home.

Although abuse does not always occur within families, parents and caretakers dealing with substance abuse, domestic violence or mental illness are generally considered to be among those with the highest risk for maltreating their children.

There are also other, more subtle risk factors to consider; circumstances such as being isolated, being a very young parent, having multiple children, and having a personal history of abuse as a child are known factors that increase the risk of parents and caregivers becoming abusers. We also know that the presence in the home of a non- related, temporary caregiver, such as a parent’s new partner, might present a risk.

An abuser who is sexually attracted to children will often place themselves in situations where it is acceptable for adults to interact with young people, and will frequently prey on vulnerable children, such as those with overstressed parents who lack the time to monitor all of their activities. These abusers will often engage in a gradual seduction process known as “grooming.”

There are also abusers who find themselves sexually attracted to older kids and teens—those children who no longer look like children, but certainly, in many respects, still are. These predators often gain compliance by offering prestige, status and romance.

In some situations, the abuser is another child. Many of the same traits associated with bullying, particularly a lack of empathy for the feelings of others, are found in young people who sexually abuse children.

While there are warning signs and risk factors, there is no simple way to identify abusers. Instead, you must learn to trust your instincts, and if a situation just does not seem right, don’t make excuses for the adult’s behavior. By paying attention and learning as much as you can, you might be able to help a child out of an abusive situation.

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig

Some people may wonder if child abuse is such a traumatic experience, why don't victims just tell? There are many reasons, particularly if the abuse is happening at home, or if the abuse is sexual. Even adults rarely discuss such deeply personal issues, so how can we expect children to?

Depending on who is committing the abuse, the child may be in a deep and dependent relationship with that person and the abuse is only one aspect of a complex attachment. This is particularly difficult if the abuse is happening at home, because a child’s attachment to their family is remarkably strong. Whatever is going on behind closed doors, these gown-ups are often the child’s lifeline and the child can’t see how they’d survive without them.

We also know that many children keep silent because they are afraid of what might happen if they do tell. They may have been told, "if you say anything I''ll go to jail," or they may be fearful of being taken away or worry who will watch out for their younger sister or brother. It's also entirely possible that the abuser has threatened to harm the child or someone they love if they tell anyone about the abuse.

When the abuse is sexual, children are even more confused about the abusive behaviors. Sexual abusers often take great care to make the victim feel special as part of a process known as "grooming." A victim may receive extra gifts or privileges in return for silence, or may be convinced that going along with the abuse protects their younger siblings. These actions lead to a greater likelihood of the child keeping the secret, and abuse thrives in secrecy.

Some victims may also be conflicted by their body’s physiologic response to the abuser’s specific kinds of touch to their genitalia, which can be experienced as something they equate with physical pleasure. Many victims feel deep shame about this involuntary physical response; in fact, many abusers use this response to convince the victim they were a willing participant! Young victims don’t know that this response is a reflex – like a tap on the knee – so their guilt shames them into silence.

Any or all of these reasons may cause a child to keep silent, therefore it’s critical that we as adults recognize our responsibility to lift the burden from the children and break the silence by reporting abuse.

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig

Sometimes, a child will try to tell a trusted adult something is wrong. For some kids, it’s a gradual process. They might first test the water, possibly seeking an opinion on a hypothetical problem to see how you might respond. If you find yourself in a conversation with a child and you begin to suspect they are disclosing abuse, stay calm, keep your voice matter of fact and keep the conversation going.

The most important thing you can do is show a child that you believe them. A child almost never lies about abuse and, if in the rare case they do, that child still needs help.

To keep a conversation going, consider how you might make it clear to the child they are not at fault. Often a child has been led to believe that he or she provoked the abuse. Regardless of anything a child did or said, an adult is always responsible for their own behavior, and you can express this to a child in simple language.

If the child is hesitating, take a moment and acknowledge this distress. Gently saying something like, “This seems so hard for you to talk about, and I’m so proud of how hard you’re trying” can assure the child and help them feel safe about talking to you.

Questioning children is complicated and you should carefully consider the questions you ask. Even when speaking with a child who seems to communicate on an adult level, keep your questions simple.

Younger children present another challenge – they are extremely eager to please grown-ups and often try to provide the answer they think the adult wants to hear, even if it’s not factually correct.

The professional investigator who follows up on your report will have special training in interviewing children and know how to get the information they need. Your job is to get the basic facts and make a child feel good about reaching out for help.

Some kids may want you to keep their secret, but it’s important to let them know you can't do that. Never make a promise to a child that you can’t keep. Victims have most likely been lied to by adults in the past and they need to learn to trust adults again. Since, as a Penn State employee or volunteer, you are required to report abuse and call the authorities, you must explain that you want to find a special person to help them, someone with the child's best interests at heart who understands and knows what to do.

Please, be as supportive as possible to a victim seeking help. It is incredibly difficult for them to take that first step. It is our job as caring adults to make that step as worthwhile as possible.

Christina Phillips

ChildLine is Pennsylvania's child abuse hotline and registry operated by the Department of Public Welfare and operates twenty-four hours, seven days a week. If you are a mandated reporter, you MUST call ChildLine to report suspected abuse. However, ANYONE in the state may call ChildLine and file a report if abuse is suspected.

When you call ChildLine, you will speak with a trained ChildLine Caseworker. You should let them know you're calling to make a report of suspected abuse. They will ask how you know the child and for your name and identifying information.

The caseworker will also ask you a series of questions, some of which may include where the child lives, where the suspected abuse occurred, the nature and extent of the suspected child abuse, and the name and relationship of the person or persons responsible for causing the suspected abuse.

It is important to be as specific as possible when describing the injuries or condition of the child. You should provide exact quotes from the child when possible, and you should not make assumptions or elaborate on details.

If you report suspected abuse in good faith, you are protected from civil or criminal liability. As a reporter, your name is kept confidential and is not released to family or most other people.

Fear of retribution should not stop you from calling ChildLine.

Christina Phillips

You might hesitate to report suspected child abuse because you don’t understand what will happen after you make a report.

When you call ChildLine, you are reporting a suspicion, not making an accusation or conducting an investigation. You are simply alerting authorities with appropriate training and resources that a child and a family may be in need of help and protection.

Once a report of suspected abuse is made to ChildLine, the investigation process begins. ChildLine personnel will contact the county Children and Youth office to inform them of the report.

If you suspect abuse, you might not want to make a report because you’re afraid of being wrong. It’s important to know that there will be an investigation, and certain steps have to be taken in order to determine if abuse is occurring. As part of the investigative process, the caseworker will conduct interviews with any persons who are known, or may be expected to have information about the incident of alleged child abuse.

In certain situations, the report of suspected child abuse is also referred to law enforcement officials by the county agency. When the initial inquiry by the county agency provides evidence that certain types of offenses have occurred, the county agency ensures the safety of the child, then immediately contacts law enforcement.