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UNCE experts dispel myths about child abuse reporting

Posted 11/30/2011

Adults need to be aware of when they are required to contact authorities

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension child and youth development experts say the recent allegations concerning a Penn State University football coach and a Syracuse assistant basketball coach highlight the need for adults to be aware of how to recognize and report concerns about possible child abuse.

"There are a lot of myths about reporting child abuse," UNCE Family Life Specialist Sally Martin said.

"It’s important that people understand what their responsibilities are. When people don’t act, children can suffer. And the damage can last a lifetime."

Cooperative Extension in Nevada has worked for more than 30 years to prevent child abuse and neglect. It does this through training for child care workers as well as various workshops for teachers, parents and people who work with children.

The following are the most common misconceptions people have about child abuse, Martin said:

Myth 1: If you suspect abuse or neglect and report to your supervisor, you have done your duty. Wrong!

UNCE Child and Youth Development Specialist Jackie Reilly said that in Nevada, if you are a mandated reporter, you must report directly to the child welfare services or the police, even if you have told or filed a written report with your supervisor.

"Anyone, mandated or not, who suspects abuse should report it," Reilly said. "Organizations that have rules requiring their employees to ’keep it in house’ are putting their employees in an impossible bind and should, instead, be clear that employees are to report to the proper authorities even though they reported to their supervisors."

Myth 2: You need to make sure abuse or neglect have actually occurred before you report. Not so!

If you have reason to suspect abuse or neglect, you should report as soon as possible and let those who are trained to investigate take over, Martin said. Unless you are intentionally making a false report, you cannot be charged with any wrongdoing.

Myth 3: The person you suspect of abuse and neglect will be told who made the report. Wrong!

You can ask to remain anonymous when you report, Reilly said. Only rarely are those who report required to appear at a trial.

"You can report without giving your name," Reilly said, "but keep a record of the name of the official that you reported to with the date of your report."

UNCE requires all employees and volunteers who come into contact with children or youth to have specific training. That same training, available in both English and Spanish, is available to and used by other youth-serving organizations across the United States.

The self-study guide "Child abuse recognition and reporting: A self-study guide for people working with children" can be accessed, free of charge, at: http://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/files/cy/2009/sp0911/

Reilly and Martin said that the sooner abuse and neglect are recognized and stopped, the better the outcomes are for children and their families.

UNCE has developed special training for early childhood educators and child care providers, who have an opportunity and responsibility to spot abuse early. This training can be accessed online, and free workshops are offered periodically. The electronic version is available at: http://www.unce.unr.edu/publications/files/cy/2005/cm0505.pdf

UNCE also offers quick references for how to recognize and report child abuse and neglect, including:

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