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What to Do When You Suspect Child Neglect

If you suspect that your in-laws are neglecting or abusing their children, use this information to get help and ensure their safety.

What to Do When You Suspect Child Neglect

Family Matters

Willful neglect is likely to trigger Child Protective Services intervention. A parent who is unable to provide the necessities of life due to poverty may, instead, seek assistance from agencies that provide financial assistance, health services, housing, or other basic services.

Family Matters

The link between substance abuse and child abuse has strengthened over the years. Parental abuse of alcohol and use of other drugs has been identified as a major factor contributing to child maltreatment and death. It is estimated that nearly 10 million children under the age of 18 are adversely affected by the sub-stance abuse of their parents.

Words to the Wise

Emotional abuse includes acts that cause serious behavioral, cognitive, emotional, or mental disorders. For example, the parents may use bizarre punishments, such as torture or confinement of a child in a dark closet. For less severe acts, such as habitual scapegoating, belittling, or rejection, demonstrable harm to the child is often required for authorities to intervene.

Here's what Corrine told me about her family situation:

"My sister-in-law (she and my brother are divorced) is neglecting my four-year-old nephew and a second baby that she had with another man. The children are not fed or clothed properly. Last week, I found the four-year-old alone in the apartment minding the baby! My sister-in-law said she had to 'run out and get a few things' and felt safe leaving my nephew baby-sitting. My sister-in-law has gotten into trouble with the law for drugs and criminal activity. I want to turn her in to the authorities, but I'm afraid of what will happen to the kids."

Child neglect is characterized by failure to provide for the child's basic needs. Neglect can be physical, educational, or emotional. A child of any age, sex, race, religion, and socioeconomic background can fall victim to child neglect. A large number of neglected children are never reported to the authorities who can help them and their families.

When are you justified in reporting your in-laws to child protective services for child neglect? It's important to realize that child neglect is rarely stopped without intervention. The U.S. Advisory Board reported that near-fatal abuse and neglect each year leaves "18,000 permanently disabled children, tens of thousands of victims overwhelmed by lifelong psychological trauma, thousands of traumatized siblings and family members, and thousands of near-death survivors who, as adults, continue to bear the physical and psychological scars. Some may turn to crime or domestic violence or become abusers themselves."

Most horrifying of all, most children continued to live with their abusers. Nearly nine out of every ten perpetrators of child maltreatment investigated are either the child's parent or other relative. Only five percent of all children reported for maltreatment were removed from their homes. Consider the following recommendations:

  1. The child's safety comes first. Always keep this in mind.

  2. Don't wait for another in-law to step in and resolve the situation. In-laws are often very unwilling to shake the family tree.

  3. Talk to an attorney to find out how the law works. Once child protective services are notified, they must respond to the situation.

  4. Call your child welfare office if you think a child is being neglected.

  5. Child abuse and neglect are a community concern. No one agency or professional alone can prevent and treat the problem; rather, all concerned citizens must work together to effectively identify, prevent, and treat child abuse and neglect.

For additional information, you can contact:

Child Welfare League of America
440 First Street, NW
Suite 310
Washington, DC 20001-2085
(202) 638-2952

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