With some exceptions, a single incident or observation of suspected abuse or neglect may not necessarily trigger the need for a call to the Department of Children and Families (DCF). But even if a decision is made not to contact DCF, when an indicator is observed it should be a red flag to keep a watchful eye on the child/youth, ask fellow staff or supervisors whether they’ve noticed similar physical and/or behavioral symptoms, and keep notes about the behaviors that are causing concern. Certainly, if a pattern emerges, or the symptom becomes more pronounced or severe, a call to DCF must be made.
Most people have never filed a report with DCF, and many—especially non-professionals— who work or volunteer with children/youth may feel reluctant to do so. People may “second-guess” the situation or their own observations and remain silent because of questions about their personal liability or being sued; worry about being wrong or causing trouble to another family or to their employer; mistrust of the authorities like DCF; and uncertainty about what will happen after a report is made. That’s why it’s important that your leaders take steps to address this reluctance by “demystifying” the reporting process, by showing staff and volunteers that they will be supported in their efforts to keep children/youth safe, and by making it clear that there will be no negative consequences or repercussions for reporting—even if the report turns out to be wrong.
Keep Reporting Top-of-Mind
To increase awareness among staff and volunteers, you can keep instructional materials about child abuse, such as our chart on physical and behavioral indicators, and a one-page flow chart describing reporting, as an appendix to your Policies and Procedures, or as an attachment to your Code of Conduct. Your flow chart should include the reporting sequence to follow, the people to contact, and the numbers to call if abuse is suspected, observed, or disclosed, like in these sample charts (See Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect Sample 1 and 2 charts). Your leaders can use these materials as part of your orientation process for new hires or volunteers, and include them in annual training or professional development efforts.
Clarify Reporting Abuse Occurring Inside and Outside the YSO
Since the vast majority of abuse cases—including incidents of sexual abuse—take place at the hands of someone a child/youth knows and trusts, most of the situations that could come to the attention of your personnel would likely occur outside of your organization—in the child’s home, within their extended family, or through the family’s social network. In other cases, however, the allegation may concern a current or past employee or volunteer of your organization, or even another child or youth attending your program.
You’ll need to provide additional guidance for any allegations concerning suspected abuse occurring within your organization. Your guidance should include the process of an internal investigation, notification to parents, and a plan for public communication and response.
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