Please Help Prevent Child Abuse in Grand Rapids
Child Abuse is real and it happens in Grand Rapids.
It happens in Kent County. It happens in West Michigan.
And even though the idea of harming a child turns your stomach and makes you cringe, realize that you may be the only lifeline for a child in your life.
That child NEEDS you to see him. She needs you to advocate for her.
You probably have hesitations about reporting someone. You don’t want to get a good mom or dad in trouble. You’ve heard horror stories about Child Protective Services taking kids away for reasons you don’t agree with.
But child abuse and neglect is a prevalent problem in our community and you have a role in responding to it. In 2020, 1,933 children ages 0-17 were abused or neglected in Kent County.
Children are vulnerable, and they depend on us for protection. The impacts of child abuse and neglect last for a lifetime, but they are also 100% preventable.
How Do I Know it’s Child Abuse?
Many people hesitate to intervene in a situation because they aren’t sure if what they saw really “qualifies” as abuse. Here are some parameters to know and follow:
Legal definition of child abuse:
“Harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare that occurs through non-accidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or maltreatment” …by the person responsible for the child’s care.
Abuse can be:
Legal definition of child neglect:
The “failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care.” Neglect can also be defined as “a parent/guardian’s…failure to intervene to eliminate that risk when that person is able to do so and has, or should have, the knowledge of the risk.”
- Failure to protect
- Improper supervision
- Medical neglect
Signs of Physical Child Abuse
- Bruises that conflicts with explanation of injury
- Unexpected bruises, welts or loop marks in various stages of healing
- Bite marks
- Bald spots/missing clumps of hair
- Swollen lips/chipped teeth
- Crescent shaped bruises (caused by pinching)
- Horse shoe shaped welts (caused by lighter burns)
- Puncture wounds
- Bruising behind the ear
- Uncomfortable with physical contact
- Arrives at school late
- Chronic running away
- Complains of soreness
- Wears inappropriate clothing to cover body
- Lacks impulse control
Signs of Sexual Abuse
- Pain or itching in genital area
- Difficulty sitting/standing
- Bruising or bleeding in genital areas
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Frequent urinary or yeast infections
- Sudden or unexplained weight change
- Chronic depression
- Sexual behaviors and references unusual for age
- Seductive/promiscuous behavior
- Poor self-esteem
- Lack of self-confidence
- Suicidal tendencies
Signs of Child Neglect
- Unattended medical needs
- Lack of supervision
- Consistent hunger
- Inappropriate dress
- Poor hygiene
- Inappropriate supervision
- Sudden or unexplained weight change
- Inappropriate food items
- Regular displays of fatigue
- Falling asleep in class
- Steals, hoards or begs for food
- Reports no caretaker is home
- Overly dependent on teacher
- Asks for lots of help
- Stays at school/activities for extended periods of time
What Can I Do to Help Prevent Child Abuse?
If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, you should report it immediately.
If the child is at risk of immediate harm, or you witness the child being harmed, call the police – DIAL 911.
Stories of when Mandated Reporters called 911
- I witnessed a child, around 8 years old, be punched in the face by his father at a Big Boy restaurant. I notified the manager, informing him that I was required to report witnessing this and he did his best to keep the pair there until the police arrived.
- A teen from my Girl Scout troop disclosed during an overnight that she was being raped by her older brother. Her older brother was supposed to pick her up in the morning. I called 911 that evening and police agreed to meet me the scheduled pick-up location in the morning.
- In running an after school program, one of the attendees disclosed he was scared that his mom was going to die that evening. When asked why he said, “She told us she was going to kill herself and I really think she’s going to do it this time.” I called CPS who encouraged me to also call 911 and have an officer there when the mom picked up the kids. Together, the officer and the school counselor met with the mom, who was quickly taken to Pine Rest for support and her children were able to stay with their aunt while their mother got the support she needed.
If the child is not in immediate danger, or you have not witnessed the harm first hand, call Child Protective Services.
Michigan law states that anyone with “reasonable cause to suspect child abuse or neglect shall make immediately…an oral report.” You do not have to have proof that a child is being abused or neglect in order to file a report. If you suspect that something is wrong, err on the side of caution and make the call.
How Do I Report?
You can file an oral report by calling Child Protective Services (CPS) at 855-444-3911.
During the call, CPS will ask you questions such as the child’s full name, age, and race; the perpetrator’s full name and relationship to the child, and the child’s address, and what you are calling to report. Even if you don’t have all the information, don’t let that stop you from making a report!
The most important things to tell CPS during your call are who the victim is, where they can find the victim, and what happened.
4 Ways to Keep Your Kid Safe from Child Abuse
A few guidelines for keeping your own kiddos safe:
1. Teach Kids About Private Parts
Your child needs to understand what parts of his or her body are considered “private.” The Swimsuit Lesson by Jon Holsten is one of my favorite books on this topic. The author is a retired police sergeant and former investigator of child sex crimes. It is written in very simple terms for kids and also has a separate parent section.
Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 30% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are family members and about 60% are known to the child but are not family members (family friends, babysitters, child care providers, neighbors, etc.). That means that 90% of child abuse comes from someone that the child already knows.
So yes, this is worth talking about.
Here is a previous article I wrote on the topic of talking about sex with your kiddos.
2. Teach Kids That They can say No to an Adult
Tell an authority figure “no” can be tough for kids. Talk to your kids about when they should obey adults (nearly always) and when it’s okay to not obey. They do NOT have to “keep a secret” with an adult if it makes them uncomfortable. They do not have to say, see, or do anything with an adult that makes them feel uncomfortable, especially if involves their body or an adult’s.
3. Listen to the Little Voice in Your Head
This advice is for both kids and parents. If you get a weird feeling about a family member of one of your child’s friends, don’t let them play at their house. While I am certainly not advocating that we all go around being super judgmental of others, when it comes to the safety and well-being of your child, you need to go with your gut. We all have a sense of what is right and wrong. We all have that little voice in our heads that says, “I’m not so sure about this…”
My husband and I talk to our kids about this all the time. We tell that them that “if something makes you uncomfortable, get yourself out of that situation right away.”
Kids need to have an “out” in those situations. Make sure your child knows what to do if they find themselves in an uncomfortable or unsafe situation. Also make sure they know that they will never be in trouble for telling you about something that made them uncomfortable or calling you to have you come pick them up from a friend’s house because they are uncomfortable.
Many of you probably saw this article floating around recently; this is a great strategy for parents to use with older kids.
4. Help Kids Identify Safe Adults
As much as we want our kids to talk to us about everything, we can’t be the only safe adult in their lives. Talk to your kids about who they can talk to if they need to. Encourage your kids to make a list of those adults and post it somewhere they will see if every day. These adults could be a grandparent, teacher, family friend, coach, parent of a friend, school counselor, etc.
Where to Turn if You Suspect Your Child has Been a Victim of Child Abuse
The Children’s Assessment Center of Kent County is your resource if you suspect child abuse. If your child has had a significant change in behavior and/or has exhibited sexualized behavior and you do not know why, the Child Assessment Center can do a behavior assessment to help determine where the behavior is coming from.
They can also help if you are wondering if your child is displaying age appropriate behavior or are wondering what age appropriate behavior looks like.
Four Things to Know About the Children’s Advocacy Center
We wish that no one would ever have to visit the Children’s Advocacy Center but if you do, here is some helpful information:
- It’s Free. You don’t have to pay here to investigate whether your child has been abused. If your child has been exhibiting sexualized or questionable behavior, call now to make an appointment. The Children’s Advocacy Center’s skilled professionals regularly deal with young children through preteens to sift fact from fiction. The CAC can also help you determine what is appropriate behavior for your child’s age.
- It’s Safe. Your information and the information of your children will be kept confidential. Doors remain locked and entry is only granted by appointment. Kent County detectives are located in the same building, as are Child Protective Service Workers, should they be needed.
- It’s Local. The Children’s Advocacy Center is at 2855 Michigan St NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506. You can call them at (616) 336-5160.
- You Won’t Need Childcare. When you bring a child in to be assessed, trained office staff and a fully stocked child-friendly lobby are ready for your other children.
Take Mandated Reporter Training
Certain professions that have regular contact with children have been designated as Mandated Reporters. A mandated reporter is a person who is legally obligated to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Mandated reporters fall into this category based on their profession. The following are some examples of people who are mandated reporters:
- Dentist and/or Dental Hygienist
- Law Enforcement Officer
- Licensed Counselor
- Licensed Emergency Medical Care Provider
- Marriage and Family Therapist
- Medical Examiner
- Physician and/or Physician Assistant
- Regulated Child Care Provider
- School Administrator
- School Counselor or Teacher
- Licensed Social Worker
- Social Service Technician
- Students in Coursework Programs Working with Minors
Mandated Reporter training is not limited to these professions, however. Anyone, including you, can become a Mandated Reporter.
Mandated Reporter Training trains professionals, students and community members not only how to report child abuse and neglect, but also how to recognize it. Training includes the Child Protection Law, responsibilities of Mandated Reporters, indicators of child abuse/neglect, and information on Children’s Protective Services.
For an online Mandated Reporter Training, the CARE House of Oakland County offers an online training free of charge.
If you’d prefer an in person training, please contact Michael Lhamon through the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services by emailing him at [email protected] or call 616-443-0876. Additionally, you can check out the MDHHS website for additional online resources.
The Children’s Advocacy Center provides mandated reporter training throughout the year. To schedule personalized training for your business or organization, please visit their Professional and Community Training page, or contact Prevention and Outreach Director, Misti. They also offer sessions that are open to anyone in the community.
- Michigan Department of Health & Human Services – Contains information about how to report child abuse and neglect and what happens after CPS receives a report.
- Understanding Child Abuse and Neglect – A helpful guide about the signs of potential child abuse and neglect.