Getting Involved to Stop Child Abuse

Sometimes you think you see adults abusing children in public and you don't know whether you should get involved, or how. Is it your business when you see parents hitting, slapping or otherwise hurting their children? Can you help? The answer is yes.
Although most parents want to be good parents, sometimes factors such as job loss, abuse as a child, substance abuse, mental health concerns, lack of information, lack of parenting skills, or other problems create stress and reduce coping skills. You may be able to diffuse a minor situation by taking the time to calmly offer help and support.

Some hints when talking to adults about the children in their care include:

  • Be helpful and supportive, rather than judgmental and critical.
  • Strike up a conversation with the adult and be empathetic. Say something like “My child did the same thing the other day," or "Being a parent/grandparent/babysitter can be tough sometimes, can't it?“
  • Focus attention on the child, saying, "He or she sure has a lot of energy."
  • Paying attention to the child may divert the parent's anger.

You should try to help if:

  • A child will be physically hurt.
  • A child’s overall well-being is threatened.
  • You are uncomfortable with a situation involving a child.
If you cannot help by talking to the parent, or the situation is more serious than you can handle, take the next step.

Deciding what to do when you suspect child abuse or neglect can be a difficult and confusing process.
Remember, you do not need to make a decision about whether abuse or neglect occurred; you are just reporting your concerns. Depending on where you live, you might report suspected abuse or neglect to your local Child Protective Services (CPS) agency. These agencies are sometimes called Social Services, Human Services, Human Welfare, or Children and Family Services.
Most states have child abuse hotlines set up to take calls related to child abuse and neglect. Those phone numbers can be found online or in your local phone book.
If you think that a child is in immediate danger, you should call your local police or 911 immediately.
Typically, the investigation of abuse and neglect complaints will be prioritized according to legal guidelines and the immediate risk to the child. Be patient and persistent. You may have to call more than once. Remember, a child may be counting on you to make that call.

Professionals who work with children and families, including teachers, doctors, nurses, and social workers are required by law to report suspected neglect or abuse. Some states require that every citizen who suspects a child is being abused or neglected to report it. All states have laws that protect the reporter of suspected abuse from legal liability, as long as the report was made "in good faith" and not maliciously. All you need to report is "reasonable suspicion" based on what you have witnessed firsthand or heard between a parent and child.
The state or county agency that provides Child Protective Services (CPS) has the legal authority to investigate and evaluate the facts. Most states complete a safety assessment to determine whether children can be safe or conditionally safe in their home.
Once you make a report, Child Protective Services agencies are not free to give you any information about the case. They will, however, be able to say whether a case has been substantiated or not. Substantiation means that there is enough evidence to justify an investigation and case plan. If a case is found to be unsubstantiated, it simply means that there is not enough information about the allegation or the identity of the family, or that the state law contained narrow criteria for substantiating a case. Criteria for substantiation vary from state to state because definitions of child abuse and neglect vary from state to state.
If you are unsure of the legal definitions of abuse or neglect in your community, contact your local Child Protective Services agency for information.
You’ve done the right thing and helped save a child from cruelty and abuse.

As U.S. citizens and community members, we all play a large role in the positive development of our country’s children. Believe it or not, we all have tremendous influence over children, even when we think they are not watching. A caring adult can prevent, offset or reverse the harm caused by an abusing or neglectful parent.
Child abuse prevention is a community issue. But one person you can make a meaningful contribution in the life of a child in your community. Get involved in American Humane’s Front Porch Project and help protect children by reconnecting with your neighbors and the surrounding community.
As always, don’t hesitate to contact us if you need any additional information about child abuse prevention or help in identifying local resources for at-risk children and families.
Now when you see child abuse or neglect, you can take action. Don't hesitate. You could save a life.

Information used from the American Humane Association. For more, please visit their site at:

To become an advocate for children, please visit the National CASA Association at, enter your zip code to find a local CASA in your area.