Child protection services are standardized services provided by the government and were specifically designed to protect underage children from harm. The secondary purpose is to encourage and support stability and functionality of families.
Although some states use terms like “Child Protection”,” Department of Child and Family Services”, “Department of Social Services” or similar, Child Protective Services (CPS) is the official name used in most states when referring to these agencies.
All of the agencies, regardless of the local or regional name are responsible for responding to reports of child abuse and neglect and for managing the sequence of events that follows each reporting.
The ultimate mission of CPS is to ensure the safety and care of any child who is or may become a victim and to continuously monitor policies and procedures to improve success rates. The welfare of the child is always the priority.
Literally millions of investigations are conducted across the country every year involving multiple millions of children. Out of the cases reported, statistics show that hundreds of thousands of children have actually been abused, neglected, or worse — have died — due to episodes of family violence.
The statistics are alarming. ChildHelp.org reports that five children die every day at the hands of abusers and the United States holds one of the worst records for reported child abuse.
When Should You Call CPS?
Unless abuse or neglect is clearly obvious, careful consideration must be made before making a call to child protective services agencies.
This doesn’t mean that one should be overly cautious but it’s important to understand that all calls received are taken very seriously. Follow up investigations will impact the lives of the children, parents, or caregivers named in your complaint.
When in doubt, refer to articles or guidelines published by knowledgeable individuals and state and local agencies before filing a report.
If you are unable to find help through your city or state, contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) for assistance.
Childhelp crisis counselors are not able to make a child abuse report on your behalf or act in the same capacity as Child Protective Services but they will assist you through the process and guide you to appropriate resources in your area.
What Specific Information Does a Child Protective Services Agency Require?
Do Right by Kids published an article that outlines the criteria you need to meet for a CPS counselor to process the complaint. The state of Texas has prepared a helpful guide to understanding child protection services and how to use them. The state in which you live may also have published guidelines.
Can I Make an Anonymous Call?
Calls to CPS can be anonymous; you are not required to give personal information. If you do choose to leave your name and contact information with the counselor your personal information is kept strictly confidential.
Although it is your decision whether or not to remain anonymous, disclosing your contact information may be helpful to the counselor if clarification or further information is needed later on.
What Happens After CPS Receives a Report of Abuse or Neglect?
When CPS receives a report of child abuse or neglect the counselor determines whether or not further investigation should take place. The counselor also determines whether or not police should be involved.
If it appears that a child has been harmed or is in danger of being harmed or evidence of serious abuse or neglect is present, police are notified and can place the child in protective custody.
CPS will take custody of the child and temporarily place him or her with a relative or in foster care. After further investigation if it is deemed necessary, the matter will be reviewed by a court.
In serious cases termination of parental rights may occur.
The focus of Child Protective Services is to achieve proper care and treatment for the abused child with the ultimate goal of attaining a permanent home
Signs that a Child May Be Abused or Neglected
All kids get dirty when they’re playing outside and many run around in bare feet. Kids get injured when they fall off their bikes and trip over toys; accidents do happen. It’s important to understand the difference between normal and abnormal behaviors.
It is also important to understand that child abuse can occur anywhere: in the home, at school, in private, in public. Abusers can be family members, friends or strangers.
If you notice one or more of the situations described below (or anything out of the ordinary) there is a possibility of child abuse or neglect:
- When bruises, burn marks, lacerations, swelling or other injuries occur and are unusual and unexplainable or appear frequently,
- When a child is noticeably withdrawn from friends, family, teachers, or events for extended periods of time
- When child has consistent poor hygiene, worn and dirty clothing, is regularly without shoes or complains often about being hungry
- When a child exhibits fearful behavior when approached (such as cringing or raising hands and arms to protect the face)
- When a child is behaving aggressively or significant behavioral changes occur
- When grades drop or a student drops out of favorite activities in or after school
- When a child is frequently missing from school
Types of Child Abuse
Abuse isn’t always in the form of physical harm. Sexual abuse of children is unthinkable but occurs all too often. Verbal and emotional abuse, although not visual, can have as much of a negative impact on a child as physical or sexual abuse.
Name calling, bullying, taunting, ridicule, emotional neglect are all forms of abuse.
Generating a discussion with a CPS professional or making a call to a hotline will help you to understand more clearly whether or not your suspicion of abuse is real.
Effects of Child Abuse
Unless you have been a victim of child abuse or neglect it is difficult to understand the impact of abuse but learning everything you can about abuse — and what to do if you see it, can help break the cycle.
Children who have been directly abused or neglected or that have witnessed family violence are at risk for developing mental, emotional, and/or social problems. What happens to the victim over time depends upon the type of abuse or neglect, frequency, and who the person was that abused the child.
The sooner an abuse victim receives help the better their chances are of living a normal life.
The following is a list of common problems that develop in abuse victims over time but there are many others.
- Anxiety and depression disorders
- Post traumatic stress disorder
- Suicide or suicidal thoughts
- Dissociation from the event (block out any memory of the event or events).
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
Child Abuse Stories: Understanding the Plight of Victims of Child Abuse and Neglect
Many people are unaware that child abuse and neglect has reached epidemic proportions. Many do not understand the realities of child abuse and think that it’s something that happens on TV shows or in neighborhoods far away. Certainly not in their home towns?
ChildHelp.org has published a number of stories written by actual victims of child abuse and neglect. These stories help raise awareness about this global problem.
Some of the stories are difficult to read but each victim’s story about their abuse is real and enlightening. They are reminders of how important it is to be aware when things don’t seem right with a child.
How Can You Help?
- Take notice when something seems suspicious about a child’s appearance, demeanor or behavior.
- Listen to what children have to say and take them seriously if they confide in you, if you overhear them telling another child about an abuse, or if a child reports that a friend may have been abused.
- Call authorities if you see a child left alone in a vehicle.
- Be concerned if a young child is playing outside unsupervised.
- Call the hotline if a child appears to have been beaten or injured.
If you are able, get involved with child advocate groups in your community that help raise awareness. Being aware of potential child abuse situations by listening, observing, and keeping an open mind is a step in the right direction.
If you are an adult who is concerned about your own behavior toward a child, or you were a victim of child abuse in the past, do not hesitate to contact crisis counselors at the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) or your local agency’s hotline.
Qualified crisis counselors are available to speak to you if you need to find help for yourself. They will connect you to resources available in your area.