As employees of a youth serving organization it is important that we are aware of our responsibility for child safety. Our hope is that all children will live in a safe environment, but we know that children are exposed to neglect and abuse. Due to changes in the larger and more complex society of which we are a part and to some unfortunate incidents in some other youth organizations, it is appropriate that employees of Penn State Cooperative Extension become aware or their responsibilities related to child welfare. We have a responsibility to educate ourselves and the children with whom we work about the risks to a child’s welfare.
As an employee with Penn State Cooperative Extension you are mandated under the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law to report suspected child neglect and abuse. As you interact with youth in your role as an Extension employee, you may become aware of situations in which you need to take some action to protect the welfare of a child. Although local children and youth services employ experts who will investigate any reports, they rely on people who have direct contact with youth to report their suspicions of abuse or neglect. The following document has been put together to assist you in the reporting process.
The Child Protective Services Law
The Child Protective Services Law imposes reporting obligations on individuals who, in the course of their employment, come into contact with a child (an individual under 18 years of age) who they have reasonable cause to suspect is abused. Child abuse is specifically defined by the statute to include:
- A recent act or failure to act that causes non-accidental serious physical injury;
- An act or failure to act that causes non-accidental serious mental injury or sexual abuse or exploitation;
- A recent act or failure to act that creates an imminent risk of serious physical injury or sexual abuse or sexual exploitation; or
- Serious physical neglect constituting repeated lack of supervision or failure to provide essential care (including adequate medical care) which endangers a child’s life or development or impairs his/her functioning.
Individuals covered by the Act are obligated to make an immediate oral report of suspected child abuse to the Department of Public Welfare or Child and Youth Services. The oral report must be supplemented by a written report within 48 hours. Any individual who reasonably suspects child abuse, even if he or she is not obligated by law to report it, may also contact the appropriate state authorities. An individual who reports suspected child abuse or participates in an abuse investigation, assuming that he or she acts in good faith, is immune from civil and criminal liability.
A child may tell you about their abuse in a variety of ways. Although some may come to you in private and disclose what is going on, most children will not. More common ways for a child to disclose abuse or neglect include the following:Indirect hints:
A child may not be able to talk in specific terms because they have not learned the vocabulary or feel too ashamed or embarrassed. The child may have promised not to tell. Although you may encourage the child to provide more specifics so that you can determine if abuse or neglect took place, remember that you do not need to know exactly what form of abuse has occurred. The child may say such things as: "My brother (sister) wouldn’t let me sleep last night." "Mr. Smith wears funny underwear." "Daddy doesn’t like me." "My babysitter keeps bothering me."Disguised disclosure:
In this case the child may pretend to be talking about a friend or brother or sister, but is most likely talking about him or herself. The child may say the following: "I know someone who is being touched in a bad way." "What would happen if a girl told her mother she was being molested but her mother didn’t believe her?"Disclosure with strings attached:
Most children are aware that there are consequences to their disclosure and may offer to share their problem but only with the promise that no one else be told. You need to let the child know that you would like to help but that the law requires you to make a report if the child talks about abuse or neglect. It is against the law for you not to report just as it is against the law that the abuse has occurred. Help the child to understand that you will respect his or her confidentiality and will not discuss the abuse with anyone other than those directly involved in the legal process.
Suggestions for Responding to Disclosure
- Find a private place to talk. Remember that you should be out of hearing distance but within seeing distance of others.
- Do not panic or express shock.
- Express your belief that the child is telling you the truth.
- Use the child’s vocabulary.
- Reassure the child that it is good to tell.
- Reassure the child that it is not his or her fault; he or she is not bad.
- Determine the child’s immediate need for safety.
- Let the child know that you will do your best to protect and support him/her.
- Let the child know what you will do.
- Report to the proper authorities.
If the child discloses during an activity where other children are
involved acknowledge the child’s disclosure and continue the activity.
Afterward, find a place where you can talk with the child privately,
remaining within sight of the rest of the group.
It is your responsibility to report the abuse and set in motion the process for getting the child help. Be supportPractical Suggestions for Responding to an Abuesive of the child. Remember that the safety of the child is your primary concern. You are not to investigate the situation.
Practical Suggestions for Responding to an Abused Child
Reassure the child that the abuse was not their fault. You may need to remind them repeatedly that they are not responsible. Remember that feelings of anger, guilt, denial, and confusion are normal reactions. The way we respond to children will affect them. The best response is to go slowly and keep focused on the child’s needs. Other suggestions include:Believe the child:
Children seldom make up stories about abuse. The story may not be completely accurate or may be exaggerated, but there are serious family problems.Be a good listener:
Respect the child’s right to silence while allowing them the opportunity to talk freely with you if he/she is comfortable.Reassure the child:
Let the child know that sharing this information with you was the right thing to do. Let the child know that your primary concern is to keep him/her safe. Be honest about your responsibility to report the incident. Do not promise not to tell or make any promises about what may or may not happen.Help relieve the child of guilt:
Explain that what happened is the responsibility of the adult and that they are not to blame.Be available to the child:
The child may need the support and understanding of a caring adult. For some children, the abuse will not be as traumatic as the subsequent intervention.Protect the child’s right to privacy:
Advocate for the child by reminding staff and other adults or children about the child’s right to privacy.
Documentation is necessary to ensure safety of children
participating in the program and to provide Cooperative Extension staff
and volunteers with the information it will use when reporting abuse or
being accused of abuse. Documentation can protect you, a volunteer, or
Cooperative Extension from false accusations of neglect and abuse and
can provide information to officials investigating a report.
Incident Report Forms-Completion of incident report forms should be done any time an accident occurs during a Cooperative Extension activity. Accidents do occur and children sent home with cuts and bruises could raise questions in a parent’s mind leading to reporting of staff and volunteers at the Extension event. These reports should be kept on file at the Extension Office for three years. If there is a serious accident during an Extension event, phone calls should be made to the Regional Director, Penn State Risk Management, and P. W. Wood and Son (if volunteers are involved with the program) and the incident report form should be filed with the appropriate offices. The incident report form should be mailed to:
- P. W. Wood and Son, Penn State Risk Management, and YPCC if the incident occurs during an Extension event run by volunteers.
- Penn State Risk Management and YPCC if the incident occurs during an Extension event run by Extension staff.
Addresses for these offices may be found in part 7 of the policy section of the 4-H Youth Development Policy and Resource Manual.