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Would you protect a child from abuse?

April 18, 2012

Recently, the headlines have been dominated by case after case of sports figures or other leaders of youth-serving organizations being accused of harming children in their care. Often, these stories are made worse by revelations that others had suspicions of abuse or even witnessed it occurring, yet failed to report their concerns to the proper authorities. I bet most of you were like me when you first read or heard about these stories and thought, “I can’t believe these people knew of threats to children and didn’t act to help them,” all the while telling ourselves that if we were in their shoes, we know we would have done the right thing and reported our suspicions.

A survey conducted in 2008, however, before this and many other similar cases were exposed, suggests that the decision to report child abuse is not really as simple and straightforward as it might initially seem. This eye-opening study revealed that while 97 percent of Americans believe that everyone has a responsibility to protect children and prevent child abuse, when actually confronted with suspected abuse, only 31 percent reported it.  Forty-eight percent of respondents in this survey said they would not go to authorities, police or child protective services to help stop child abuse. Over a quarter of those surveyed said they had suspected child abuse in the past but didn’t know what to do.

Additionally, more than 70 percent of respondents said it is difficult to identify child abuse. Many of those surveyed feared the consequences of reporting their concerns, and were unaware they could do so anonymously. Over 45 percent also mistakenly believed that all children reported to the state child protection authorities would automatically be removed from their families.

In response to this survey, the National Children’s Alliance has launched a public awareness campaign called One With Courage to emphasize the courage it takes to talk about child abuse, and the importance of learning the signs of abuse and how to report it.

Recognize the signs of child abuse

Here are 10 signs that a child may be experiencing abuse:
  • Unexplained injuries. Visible signs of physical abuse may include unexplained burns or bruises in the shape of objects. You may also hear unconvincing explanations of a child’s injuries.
  • Changes in behavior. Abuse can lead to many changes in a child’s behavior. Abused children often appear scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn or more aggressive.
  • Returning to earlier behaviors. Abused children may display behaviors shown at earlier ages, such as thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, fear of the dark or strangers. For some children, even loss of acquired language or memory problems may be an issue.
  • Fear of going home. Abused children may express apprehension or anxiety about leaving school or about going places with the person who is abusing them. 
  • Changes in eating. The stress, fear and anxiety caused by abuse can lead to changes in a child’s eating behaviors, which may result in weight gain or weight loss.
  • Changes in sleeping. Abused children may have frequent nightmares or have difficulty falling asleep, and as a result may appear tired or fatigued.
  • Changes in school performance or attendance. Abused children may have difficulty concentrating in school or have excessive absences, sometimes due to adults trying to hide the children’s injuries from authorities.
  • Lack of personal care or hygiene. Abused and neglected children may appear uncared for. They may present as consistently dirty and have severe body odor, or they may lack sufficient clothing for the weather.
  • Risk-taking behaviors. Young people who are being abused may engage in high-risk activities such as using drugs or alcohol or carrying a weapon.
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviors. Children who have been sexually abused may exhibit overly sexualized behavior or use explicit sexual language.
You can learn more about the signs of child abuse here:

It’s everyone’s responsibility

Did you know that in Florida the law actually says we have to report our concerns about child abuse and neglect? This law was passed to encourage all Floridians to be a part of the safety net for children in our community. In fact, our state legislators felt so strongly that the community has a role in protecting children that they made it a felony to fail to report known concerns.

Report your concerns

Calling the hotline is easy, and you may report your concerns 24/7. The number is 1.800.96.ABUSE or 1.800.962.2873.  You can even report your concerns to this hotline anonymously, and you are protected by law for doing so if reports are made in good faith.

Once a report is made, professionals with experience and training in assessing and investigating these cases (the Department of Children and Families, law enforcement and the Child Protection Team, a program of the Howard Phillips Center) will help determine if abuse occurred and what interventions are needed to help safeguard the involved children.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.  Join the Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families this month as we Paint Orlando Blue to raise awareness of abuse prevention services in our community. To learn more about how to get involved in this campaign and be a part of the child abuse prevention solution in Central Florida, visit

Together, we can make a difference for kids. If we don’t, who will?