What to Do If You Suspect Child Abuse or Neglect

If You Suspect Child Abuse or NeglectWelcome to part 6 of our 10 part series on child abuse and neglect. Today, we will be discussing what you should do if you suspect potential abuse or neglect.  

General Goals

Before we jump into the specifics about what to do when you suspect abuse or neglect, there are some overarching goals, or guiding principles, which we should all have when it comes to abuse and neglect, particularly the church. These include:

  • Protecting the child from any further harm
  • Stopping the offender’s abuse
  • Healing the victim’s brokenness
  • Restoring the family (or helping victims to mourn the loss of relationship where this is not possible)

Although there is a legal system and various state agencies set up to deal with issues of abuse and neglect, as the church we cannot and must not forget that our primary goal is ultimate healing and restoration through a relationship with Jesus Christ. The gospel of Christ must guide us in all that we do.

What To Do When You Suspect Abuse or Neglect?

What to do when you suspect abuse or neglect is a very serious thing, and you should have a plan both as an individual and as a church. As an individual, if you suspect abuse or neglect you should:

  • Pray for guidance in how to handle the situation.
  • Document what you have observed that has led to your suspicions. This should be done in writing.
  • Do not approach the child (we will talk later about how to talk to a child who has told you they are being abused or whom you find out has been abused or neglected).
  • Follow your church’s policy on reporting suspected abuse.
  • As an individual who works with kids, you should check your state laws to determine if you are required to report the suspected abuse to authorities or if reporting it to the designated person in your church is sufficient. You can find out more about this in the section of this article on who is required to report suspected abuse and neglect.

Of course, as a church, we should be training our volunteers in the list above, but we also need to have a church wide plan for dealing with instances of suspected abuse or neglect. Once you suspect abuse or neglect, that it not the right time to try to develop a policy for dealing with. Your church generally, and your children’s ministry in particular, should have a policy in place for dealing with suspected abuse and neglect long before you ever encounter it. These policies will vary by church, and based on state law, but the policies should generally:

  • Have a point person at your church (a children’s ministry director, family ministry coordinator or executive pastor) who is the individual ultimately responsible for receiving reports of suspected abuse and reporting those suspicions to the appropriate authorities.
  • Have a clear and easy system of reporting. For example, volunteers should report to the person in charge of the program they are working in, or the church’s “point person” if that leader is not available. Program leaders should report all suspicions to the church’s abuse and neglect “point person.”
  • Stress the need for confidentiality.
  • If the suspected abuse involves a volunteer, or staff, at the church, that person should be immediately removed from working with children pending the resolution of an investigation.
  • Parents should be notified, where appropriate. Note that caution should be used where the suspected abuse or neglect was, or may have been, at the hands of parents.
  • Train your volunteers and staff on the signs of abuse and neglect and the procedure for, and importance of, reporting suspected neglect abuse.
  • Churches should also check with their counsel and/or insurance carrier regarding responsibility for reporting suspicions.
For more resources for learning about, and dealing with child abuse and neglect, please visit our Hope 4 Hurting Kids Child Abuse & Neglect Help Center. For more resources for learning about, and dealing with sexual abuse and rape, please visit our Hope 4 Hurting Kids Sexual Abuse & Rape Help Center.

This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on Divorce Ministry 4 Kids on October 05, 2011.

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Written by Wayne Stocks
Wayne is the founder and executive director of Hope 4 Hurting Kids. He is a happily married father of four kids with a passion for helping young people who are going through rough times. In addition to Hope 4 Hurting Kids, Wayne previously started I Am A Child of Divorce and Divorce Ministry 4 Kids to help kids who are dealing with the disruption of their parents' relationship. These are now part of Hope 4 Hurting Kids. Wayne speaks frequently at conferences and churches on issues related to helping kids learn to deal with difficult emotions and life in modern families. Wayne lives with his wife, three youngest kids, three dogs and an insane collection of his kids' other pets outside of Columbus, Ohio. In addition to his work with Hope 4 Hurting Kids, Wayne is a partner in a local consulting firm, an avid reader, coaches his son's soccer team and is a proud supporter of Leicester City Football Club (and yes, for those in know, his affinity for the club does predate the 2016 championship). You can reach Wayne at wayne@hope4hurtingkids.com.