If you suspect or have witnessed cases of child abuse or neglect, know when it's the right time to contact your state's Department of Children and Family Services.
- Step 1: Know about child abandonment. Child abandonment is neglect where the parent's or guardian's identity or whereabouts is unknown, or where the child is left in harmful circumstances.
- Step 2: Be aware of your rights as a child abuse or neglect reporter. Many states give immunity from civil or criminal liability to those who report in good faith.
- FACT: Singer Christina Aguilera wrote "I'm Okay" about her experiences as a child staying in domestic violence shelters with her mother.
- TIP: Some states consider exposure to parental substance abuse a type of child neglect.
- Step 3: Understand the legal definition of neglect, which is a parent or guardian's failure to provide food, clothing, shelter, or medical care for a child.
- Step 4: Know who are legally mandated by your state to report child abuse or neglect. Examples include school officials, law enforcement officers, and medical personnel.
- Step 5: Know the legal definition of physical abuse. It is typically summarized as any non-accidental physical injury to a child or acts that threaten a child with harm.
- TIP: Most state or county departments of social services maintain phone hotlines to report cases of child abuse.
- Step 6: Go to childwelfare.gov to learn how child abuse and neglect are defined by federal and state governments. As definitions vary state to state, search the database for state statutes.