Talking with Children
- Find a private place
- Remain calm
- Be honest, open, up-front, supportive
- Be an advocate
- Listen to the child
- Report the situation immediately
- Make judgments/promises
- Interrogate or investigate
Most of the time suspicions of child abuse and maltreatment will develop from things that you observe about a child’s physical condition or behavior or in the behavior of the child’s parent or other legally responsible person. However, sometimes a child will say something to reveal that he or she is possibly being abused or maltreated and you want to be prepared to act in a supportive way without frightening the child or promising something you can’t follow through on. Stress that the child is not at fault for the situation or for others’ actions (NYSOCFS, 2011; RAINN, 2018).
Many healthcare and social services professionals receive training in talking to children and that knowledge can be applied when dealing with children who are possible victims of abuse or maltreatment. However, always keep in mind that your responsibility is to assess for reasonable cause to suspect and make the necessary report, not to investigate or interrogate (NYSOCFS, 2011; RAINN, 2018).
There are specific guidelines for cases where sexual abuse is suspected, so once a child reveals information that makes suspect such abuse you need to avoid talking in detail with the child about the incident. Specially trained CPS and law enforcement professionals will often work together to interview a child at the same time and it will be a traumatic experience for the child to relive. As a mandated reporter you want to minimize discussion of the incident with the child (NYSOCFS, 2011; RAINN, 2018).
You are not legally required to inform the parents or other person legally responsible for the child that you are making a report to the SCR. Do not assume the parent will be supportive of the child. It is always possible that informing the parent will further jeopardize the child’s situation and risk more harm. If you have questions or concerns about informing the parents contact your local CPS (NYSOCFS, 2016, 2011).
Who Can Be Reported?
Knowing who has caused harm to a child is a significant factor in determining how to proceed (NYSOCFS, 2011). The person legally responsible may be a:
- Parent/relative/person with access to the child
- Daycare provider
- Residential care staff
The SCR only registers reports against a parent, guardian, or other person eighteen years of age or older who is legally responsible for the child (SSL §412.4; NY State Assembly 2014; NYSOCFS, 2011).
According to the Family Court Act, persons legally responsible include the child's custodian, guardian, or any other person 18 years old or older responsible for the child's care at the relevant time. This includes any person continually or at regular intervals found in the same household as the child when the conduct of such person causes or contributes to the abuse or maltreatment of the child (Fam. Ct. Act §1012(g); NYSOCFS, 2011).
Once the SCR registers a report, the person named as causing the harm to the child becomes the subject of the report. Additional information and definitions may be found in the Social Services Law §412 (NYSOCFS, 2011).
Teachers in most public or private schools do not qualify as subjects of reports when they are acting as teachers. They may be subjects when the incident involves their own child or a child for whom they have legal responsibility outside their role as a teacher (NYSOCFS, 2011).
What Is Reasonable Cause to Suspect?
Reasonable cause to suspect means that, based on what you have observed or been told, combined with your training and experience, you feel that harm or imminent danger of harm to the child could be the result of an act or omission by the person legally responsible for the child (NY State Assembly 2014; NYSOCFS, 2016, 2011).
Distrust or doubt is enough; inconsistent explanations that do not match your observations or knowledge may be the cause of reasonable suspicion. You do not have to be positive nor do you have to have proof the abuse or maltreatment is occurring or has occurred. When you have reasonable cause to suspect, it is your duty as a mandated reporter to call the SCR immediately and make a report (NYSOCFS, 2016, 2011).
Your duty is not relieved because another agency or individual has filed or may have filed a report. You must file a report as well. The sooner an incident is reported, the sooner protection for the child and assistance to the family can be provided. In addition, what you observe may be different from what others report and all the information together is relevant for the SCR to make a determination about registering a report (NYSOCFS, 2011). However, keep in mind the instructions noted above for reporting in an institutional setting.
Remember: Crimes committed against children should be directly reported to law enforcement. If you are not certain if an action is criminal, you can contact the SCR anyway, as they are trained to make the appropriate distinctions and can make a Law Enforcement Referral (LER). In cases of imminent danger, it may be necessary to contact law enforcement.
What Is Imminent Danger?
Imminent danger means that the child is placed at immediate risk or substantial risk of harm (NYSOCFS, 2011; Monroe County, 2003).
Imminent danger measures the distance between a child and the harm created by a parent’s (or other person legally responsible) actions or failure to act. The danger to the child must be immediate or nearly immediate. One must apply the standard of reasonableness: Ask yourself, “Is it reasonable to believe an intervening factor could occur?” If the answer is yes, then there is no immediate danger. If the answer is no then it is reasonable to assume that harm could occur and there is imminent danger (NYSOCFS, 2011).
For example, if a parent swings an object at a child’s head and misses, the danger is imminent. The only additional thing needed for injury would have been for the parent to succeed rather than miss and it is reasonable to believe this could have happened (NYSOCFS, 2011).
If a child is imminent danger, call 911 or the police department first, and then call the SCR. Scenarios in which such action might be appropriate could include a parent who arrives to pick up their child from an appointment but is driving their own car, smells of alcohol, and has clearly been drinking; or a home visit reveals several young children fighting while in the care of a 12-year-old sibling who cannot control them and has no idea where the parents are.
Organize Your Thinking
Any time you need to analyze a situation for reasonable cause to suspect child abuse or maltreatment, you can use the following four questions to organize your thinking:
- What indicators are present?
- Is there reasonable cause to suspect abuse or maltreatment?
- Is there a parent or other person responsible for the suspected abuse or maltreatment?
- What are your next steps?
A mother delivers a baby who has neonatal drug withdrawal. When talking to the mother, you learn she has not prepared for the baby to come home.
- Neonatal drug withdrawal
- No plan for the baby
Call in report to SCR
A 7-year-old boy comes to the doctor’s office for a physical. He has a bruise on the left side of his face and scratches along his left arm. The boy claims he fell off his bicycle. He lives with his mother, a single parent. His mother says he is very active and sometimes is a behavior challenge at school.
Bruises and scratches
No, the story is consistent with a bike injury. Injuries from an accidental fall would be along one side of the body.
Treat the child’s injuries as needed