April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and it is the perfect time to recognize the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect.
Reporting child abuse, neglect or abandonment
In Idaho, the Child Protective Act requires that everyone report suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment. This includes doctors, hospitals, residents, therapists, interns, nurses, coroners, school teachers, daycare providers, social workers, relatives, friends, and private citizens. The only exception, in certain situations, for mandatory reporting is for a “duly ordained minister of religion.” Those reporting can remain anonymous if they choose.
Neglect is the most common report made to child protection in Idaho. This occurs when children are not getting the care and protection they need. Overall, neglect means the child:
- Is young and left alone
- Lives in a house where severe health or safety hazards are present
- Has nothing to eat and appears hungry and underweight
In Idaho statute, the legal definition of "neglected" child can be found at https://legislature.idaho.gov/statutesrules/idstat/Title16/T16CH16/SECT16-1602/
Child welfare assessment
When there is a report of possible abuse, neglect, or abandonment, an assessment of the child and situation is the first step. The assessment is to determine if the child is safe and to determine if child abuse, neglect, or abandonment did occur.
An assessment includes:
- Interviewing the children and caregivers in the home
- Gathering additional information through interviews with people who know the family and/or who can provide specific information related to the report
When gathering information, the child welfare social worker looks at the following:
- Extent of maltreatment
- Nature of maltreatment
- Adult functioning (Do adults have employment, stable housing, criminal history, substance use disorders, etc. )
- Parenting practices
- Discipline practice
- Child functioning (Is the child at a normal level of development for their age; do they have medical or mental health issues; are they making educational progress)
After gathering and reviewing this information, DHW child welfare social workers gain a better understanding as to whether any maltreatment is occurring. If the assessment determines there is a concern for the safety of the children, the department will put a safety plan in place. The safety plan could be for “in home” or “out of home” and includes:
- Who should participate in the plan
- Safety threats
- Actions/tasks (including responsibility and frequency) to address those safety threats
A safety plan relies on a full understanding of how threats to children operate in the family and must contain actions that will address those threats.
As a reminder, social workers have no legal authority to remove a child from a home. That is a decision made by law enforcement officers or the court.
I would like to share an example of how this might work.
There is a child who is diagnosed with diabetes. Through the assessment, the department discovers that the diabetes is not being managed by the parents, which is leading to serious physical health risks and outcomes for the child. In this case, a safety plan might include informal support from extended family and/or friends who come into the home at meal times to make sure the parents are checking the child’s blood sugar, calculating insulin levels correctly, and are administering insulin as needed. The formal piece of the safety plan might include home health care (a nurse in the home at specific times to provide support and training to the parents and to make sure the steps of care are being implemented correctly).
The goal is to help the parents get to a position where the family no longer needs assistance to provide a safe home for their child.
Children do best with their families, and that is what we try to achieve. Children thrive when they are safe, nurtured, and loved.
How to report child abuse, neglect, or abandonment
In Idaho, we receive nearly 23,000 reports of child abuse, neglect, and abandonment each year. To report suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment call:
- Statewide: 855-552-KIDS (5437)
- Treasure Valley: 208-334-KIDS (5437)
- 2-1-1 or local law enforcement
I hope you all have a safe and healthy weekend.