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Scandal focuses on reporting of abuse

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ANN MARIE AMES
November 21, 2011
— This is where information about child abuse should be—on the front page and among the lead stories in news outlets across the nation, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen wrote last week in a news release.

The media frenzy was sparked by the Nov. 5 arrest of former Penn State University coach Jerry Sandusky on charges of sexually abusing eight boys over more than a decade. Other university officials have lost their jobs or are facing charges for failing to report to law enforcement information about the suspected abuse.


The issue has sparked debates about who “should” or “must” report suspicions of child abuse.


Wisconsin statutes mandate that many professionals who work with children or families report suspicions of abuse. In 16 states, all residents are mandated to report suspicions of abuse, according to online documents compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Child Welfare Division.


Wisconsin is not among the 16.


In his news release, Van Hollen wrote that every Wisconsinite should “remove our blinders” and report incidents or suspicion of child abuse or neglect.


“If adults are hesitant or reluctant to report these crimes, imagine how difficult it is for the child victims,” Van Hollen wrote.


“You must get law enforcement involved immediately,” he wrote.


Sandy Brown agrees that no person should hesitate to report suspected abuse. Brown is the director of Rock County Child Protective Services, the agency that screens and assesses cases of child abuse and neglect.


In 2010, the division took 2,622 reports of abuse or neglect, she said.


Actually making that call can be harder to do than you might think, Brown said.


“It’s pretty taxing to call,” she said. “There’s a lot of anxiety in calling.”


People should not investigate suspected abuse, Brown said. That’s the job of county social workers, she said. They should not second-guess themselves on the need to call, she said.


That’s the job of the social workers, Brown said.


“They don’t have to question if it is or it isn’t (abuse),” Brown said. “We’ll make that decision. If you feel it’s something that concerns you, then call us.”


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In Wisconsin, only a handful of professionals are required by law to report suspected child abuse.


Any adult with concerns about suspected abuse should report it and let authorities decide, said Sandy Brown, director of Rock County Child Protective Services. Here is some basic information for those who are or are not required to report abuse, according to Brown as well as information compiled by CPS.


Question: Who are mandated reporters?


Answer: The list includes doctors, nurses, dentists, chiropractors, coroners, mental health professionals, day care providers, teachers, EMTs and police.


Q: What if I’m not sure that what I’m seeing are signs of abuse?


A: Call and let the social workers follow up.


“At least then they (reporters) know they have done something,” Brown said.


Q: What happens when I call?


A: Your report is forwarded to a screener who uses state statues to determine whether what is being reported could be child abuse. If the reported activity meets state statutes, a social worker meets with the people involved for an assessment, Brown said.


If the child is in an unsafe situation, the social worker can remove the child and get a court order for care with another family member or a foster family, she said.


Other social workers meet with the family and work toward improving the situation so it is safe for children.


Q: If I report abuse, will I be informed of the outcome?


A: Not necessarily. Social workers will send form letters to mandated reporters with general statements about the outcome of the investigation, Brown said.


INDICATORS OF CHILD ABUSE
Here are signs of physical or sexual child abuse as compiled by Rock County Child Protective Services. For a more complete list, including signs someone might be an abuser, visit preventchildabusewi.org and click on the “recognizing and reporting” tab on the front page or call 1-800-CHILDREN.

Physical abuse


-- Multiple bruises, fractures, burn marks or puncture wounds at different stages of healing.


-- Child is fearful or withdrawn from caregivers, is eager to comply in order to avoid confrontation or shows indiscriminate attachment to strangers.


-- Child’s or parent’s explanations of an injury are not medically feasible, or the explanations conflict.


Sexual abuse


-- Difficulty walking or sitting.


-- Excessive curiosity about sex, sexual behavior or more knowledge about sex than is age appropriate.


-- Sleep loss, loss of appetite or regression in developmental milestones such as a reversion to bedwetting.


Neglect


-- Lack of medical, dental or vision care.


-- Chronic lack of cleanliness or being inappropriately dressed for the weather.


-- The presence of parental stressors such as substance abuse, unemployment or marital problems.


WHERE TO CALL

Many professionals whose jobs bring them in contact with children and families are required to report suspicion of child abuse. All residents are encouraged to make reports, although all are not required by Wisconsin law. County child protective services offices handle the complaints.


It’s OK to call with questions if you’re not sure that what you’re witnessing is a reportable offense, said Rock County Child Protective Services Director Sandy Brown.


In Rock County, call Child Protective Services at (608) 757-5401.


In Walworth County, call Child Protective Services at (262) 741-3200.


After business hours in any community, call 911.



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