By Catherine Bianchi, PhD
Conditions have worsened for children during this COVID-19 pandemic, but not just resulting from risk of infection. With schools closed, places of work closed for parents and stay-at-home orders in place, there has been a considerable increase in reports of child abuse injuries presenting in emergency rooms. Children who are no longer in school in the company of protective adults are now at increased risk for undetected abuse. Current reported numbers reflect this growing concern. Most abuse reports come from the schools, and all those concerned adults and mandated reporters are at home now. The only information is coming from well-intentioned neighbors.
We all are horrified by painfully common news stories about children who suffered for years before child protective services were notified and dispatched; or worse, those who died before their plight was discovered. These stories come from all walks of life and neighborhoods at every end of the socioeconomic spectrum. The only protection for such children is when concerned people file reports.
People are often anxious and uncertain about filing a report with Child Protective Services, or the Division of Child Protection and Permanence (DCPP, formerly DYFS) in New Jersey. I am writing this blog entry in the hope of clarifying when and how to file a report if you are concerned about a child you fear is being mistreated or is in danger.
If you see something you believe in good conscience is the result of abuse or neglect, you can call 877 NJ ABUSE or 877-652-2873, and report your concerns. This is the central intake line for DCPP and is answered 24 hours a day. You can remain anonymous!
You will be asked the reason for your call and the basis of your observations. Preparing a thorough list of observations and concerns before calling is helpful. After you speak to the worker, the Division will decide if your report should be investigated. If so, the report will move to a worker for investigation.
Please remember: You do not need to provide any proof that abuse or neglect is occurring. People are often confused about whether they can report abuse if they do not have proof. Your job only is to report your concerns. DCPP’s job is to investigate what is actually occurring in a child’s situation. You cannot have civil or criminal action taken against you if you make a report in good faith, regardless of the outcome from the report.
During my years as a mandated reporter, I have always asked myself this question when I have been deciding if I must make a report: Which mistake would I rather make? A perhaps unnecessary report that will be reviewed by specialists before any action is taken? Or failing to report when a child may be in danger?
Here is a link for more information: