Child Abuse: Frequently Asked Questions


  1. How can I help prevent child abuse? There are several things you can do about it. Learn more about child abuse and how it is treated. Don’t ignore child abuse, REPORT IT! Be supportive and helpful to families having problems. If you or your family need help coping with children, ask for it. Social service agencies are there to help you. To report child abuse or neglect in Los Angeles County, call the Child Abuse Hot Line at 1-800-540-4000 (California).
  2. What is child abuse? It is repeated mistreatment or neglect of a child by parent(s) or other guardian resulting in injury or harm. Under California Law, child abuse is a crime. Children need protection because they are vulnerable and often unable to speak for themselves. The California Child Abuse Reporting Law, along with other state laws, provides the legal basis for action to protect children and allow intervention by public agencies if a child is maltreated.


  1. What is the difference between discipline and abuse? Discipline is designed to help children control and change their behavior. Its purpose is to encourage moral, physical and intellectual development and a sense of responsibility in children. Ultimately, older children will do the right thing, not because they fear external reprisal, but because they have internalized a standard initially presented by parents and other caretakers, and children gain self-confidence and a positive self-image. Abuse is characterized by its orientation toward satisfying needs or expressing the negative feelings of parents or other caregivers. While it may result in positively changing the child’s behavior, often the improvement is temporary and followed by a later acting out of the hatred, revenge and hostility they have learned from their parents. To avoid further abuse, children may lie, run away or exhibit other forms of avoiding responsibility. Abuse tends to damage the self-esteem of both parents and the children. Safe, effective discipline is a correction given in love. In evaluating methods of guiding their children’s behavior, parents or guardians need to ask themselves: Is the discipline; * carefully related to the offense? * administered in the calmness of conviction rather than in the heat of anger? * fair, weighing heavily in consideration of the child occasional, and of brief duration? * free from physical violence (e.g., look of reproach, scolding or the taking away of a valued privilege)?


  1. What are the common signs of child abuse?

REPEATED INJURIES: Bruises, welts, burns. Parents may seem unconcerned, deny that anything is wrong, or give unlikely explanations for the injuries.

NEGLECTED APPEARANCE: Children often are badly nourished, inadequately clothed, are left alone or are wandering at all hours, always seem as if nobody cares. (Sometimes over-neatness may be a sign of abuse.)

DISRUPTIVE BEHAVIOR: Very aggressive, negative behavior constantly repeated can signal a desperate need for attention and help.

PASSIVE WITHDRAWN BEHAVIOR: When children are excessively shy and friendless, it may indicate that there are serious problems at home.

PARENTS WHO ARE “SUPER-CRITICAL”: Parents who discipline their children frequently and severely may begin to abuse them when their unrealistic standards are not met.

FAMILIES THAT ARE EXTREMELY ISOLATED: Parents who don’t share in school or community activities and resent friendly contacts may be distrustful of people, afraid of their help. Use caution and good sense in identifying child abuse. Every parents makes errors in judgment and action at some time but when it becomes plain that there is a pattern or it is becoming one, then it’s time for help. 

  1. What will happen to me if I make a report? (Verbally report ASAP: written within 36 hours) Anyone who reports known or suspected child abuse is protected by law from civil or criminal liability unless it can be proven that the report was false and that the person who made the report knew it was false. Any person, except a mandated reporter who reports child abuse may remain anonymous. Mandated reporters are required to give their names. However, it is helpful to give your name and telephone number to the worker taking the report in the event he or she needs to obtain more information later. 
  2. Why should I report child abuse? All children have the right to grow up in a safe environment. Child abuse, in all its forms, has a more lasting and negative effect on children, families and the whole community than most people realize. At its worst, its destructive impact haunts its victim throughout life and prevents the child from becoming a productive adult. Frequently, parents who were mistreated as children will mistreat their own children. The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect reports that more than 2,000 children die each year due to abuse or neglect. Reporting child abuse is a first step in stopping this devastating cycle. People who hurt children usually need help to change their behavior. Many, perhaps most, only get that help after someone else calls attention to the fact that they need it by reporting their abuse of a child.
  3. How do l know when to report child abuse? Reporting should be done when a person either knows or has a “reasonable suspicion” that a child has been or is in danger of abuse or neglect. “Reasonable suspicion” means that most people, given the same facts and information, would suspect child abuse. Hard proof is not needed to make a report. However, reports must be in good faith. Use common sense. A report of child abuse is serious and may have a lifelong impact on the child and his or her family. Never make a false or malicious report. __________________________________


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