Who reports child abuse? Ideally, the answer would be anyone who suspects that a child is not safe, whether that person is a teacher, a relative, a coach, or a neighbor. In reality, however, more than half of all confirmed child abuse reports come from three sources: schools, medical personnel, and law enforcement.
That stands to reason, of course: teachers, nurses, and doctors are some of the most significant adults in a child’s life. And it makes sense that those front-line professionals are trained in what to look for and what questions to ask to learn more about a child’s situation and safety.
But what about the other adults in a child’s life — neighbors, family members, volunteer coaches, cafeteria workers, bus drivers? In Texas, those “non-professional” sources account for less than 30% of all reports of child abuse.
There is opportunity there. A child who’s being abused and neglected is seen by many adults in the course of a day. If every adult in a child’s life were trained to notice the signs, children could be rescued from dangerous homes much earlier. (It’s also possible to report abuse anonymously.)
We need outreach campaigns on bus depots and billboards, in glossy magazines and church bulletins. We need to reach the librarian who notices the child with unwashed hair and filthy clothes, waiting until closing time to leave every evening. We need to make sure the classroom volunteer knows that a child’s excessive need to please could be a sign that something isn’t right at home.
If we’re serious about ending child abuse, we need to pay attention to what the data are telling us, and reach every adult who interacts with children – and, for good measure, every adult who doesn’t.