One question I sometimes get is: “How do kids come into care?” In other words, “How does Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) know when to check in on a family?” Well, there are different ways, such as when police are called to a home (which may be about drugs, violence or something other than the children) and it’s discovered that children in the home are in an unsafe environment; or children are removed through reports from individuals including, but not limited to, doctors, teachers, neighbors, family members, etc.
BUT bottom line: each person in the state of Indiana is considered a mandatory reporter, which means that if anyone even suspects abuse or neglect of a child, we are required by law to report it. And just in case you were curious, it is always an anonymous call, so the family who is being investigated will never know who made the report. They will have their suspicions and may make accusations, but they will never, ever, know who made the call.
Once a report is made, and if DCS determines that there may be abuse or neglect, a report will be registered, and then DCS will begin an investigation. DCS will most likely also make a report to the police. After this, the police may conduct their own investigation (which will usually occur within 24-hours of a report being made).
So what would make someone suspect child maltreatment (which is simply an all-encompassing word for abuse, neglect or exploitation)? Again…there are many different reasons why and how abuse and/or neglect presents in a child (keeping in mind that every child is different so it might affect each child in a different way). But here are a few general clues for which you may keep watch:
- Fearful behavior (nightmares, depression, unusual fears)
- Unexplained abdominal pain, sudden onset of bed-wetting, or regression in toileting (especially if the child has already been toilet trained for a long time)
- Attempts to run away
- Extreme sexual behavior that seems developmentally inappropriate for the child’s age
- Sudden change in self-confidence
- Headaches or stomach aches with no medical cause
- School struggles or failure
- Extremely passive or extremely aggressive behavior
- Desperately affectionate behavior or social withdrawal
- Large appetite and/or stealing or hoarding food
One important note: these changes can also be seen in many children as a result of other kinds of stressful situations and are not specific to child abuse and neglect. However, the reason for the appearance of these behaviors should always be investigated.
A final note about neglect: unfortunately, many children are not recognized as being neglected until they reach the age of five…when they enter kindergarten. And that’s because schools are more apt to report suspected neglect. As I mentioned above, even though all reports are made anonymously, people are often still apprehensive to report, for fear of backlash from a friend, neighbor or family member. If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call the Indiana Department of Child Services’ Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline today at 1-800-800-5556. It is available 24/7, including weekends and holidays.