Children need love and support, which is why child abuse is so devastating. Knowing where to get help for child abuse (and summoning the courage to do so) can be difficult, but resources are available. Abused children may require counseling, help from child protective services (CPS), legal advocacy, or other assistance. Also, child abuse cases are tried in criminal courts, while decisions directly affecting the welfare of a child are typically handled in family court.
This article focuses on where to get help for child abuse, regardless of whether the crime has been reported. See How to Report Child Abuse to learn how to notify the proper authorities if you or a loved one has been victimized. See FindLaw's Child Abuse section for more articles and resources.
How to Recognize Child Abuse
Child abuse victims often are too scared or ashamed to tell anyone about their ordeal. Additionally, they may encounter skepticism if they do tell someone (especially if the alleged abuser is a relative or family friend). Other victims may be in denial despite showing signs of abuse, perhaps conditioned to believe that abuse is a normal part of childhood. Some of the warning signs of child abuse include:
Trustworthy adults, especially those considered "mandatory reporters," can help abused children get the protection and emotional support they need. Here are some tips:
Reporting Child Abuse
The best way to stop child abuse is to report it to local authorities, who will conduct an investigation and potentially prosecute the abuser. Organizations dedicated to preventing may also have helpful resources and information. See How to Report Child Abuse for more details.
Child Advocacy Centers
If a case is filed, the abused child (and non-abusing family members) may need the help of a children's advocacy center (CAC). CACs are publicly funded entities that work with local police and CPS officials to help abused children get the care and services they need. Even in instances where police and CPS fail to take action (perhaps for lack of evidence), CACs can help facilitate a forensic interview, take photos, collect evidence, and provide medical care. Often the evidence gathered by CACs is presented to prosecutors for consideration.
See the Department of Health and Human Services' Child Advocacy Centers section to learn more.
Getting Out of an Abusive Environment
While the criminal justice system will handle a case against an alleged abuser, family courts generally address a child's welfare. This may include placement in a foster home; counseling services; or, if the abuse was at the hands of a custodial parent, termination or restriction of visitation rights.
In some child abuse or neglect cases—such as a mother leaving a child in the car while making a quick grocery stop—the offending parent may temporarily have to report to a social worker. But children in imminent danger of abuse are usually removed and placed temporarily in a foster home until authorities determine that the home is safe for the child. In extreme cases where this does not happen, the child may be permanently removed from the home and placed for adoption with another family.
You're Never Alone: Get Help With an Abusive Situation Today
One of the reasons people may not report child abuse is out of fear that it will break up a family and result in the child's placement in foster homes. However, child abuse itself breaks up a family and there are a variety of possible outcomes that could result from reporting abuse, all of which would be in the child's best interest. It's never too late to act and there are family law attorneys in your area who can provide you with real solutions and peace of mind.