Lesson 1 - What to Report

Mental health professionals must be aware of and alert to the signs of child abuse. Red flags for abuse and neglect are often identified in individual parent and child behaviors, as well as family interactions and social system characteristics. Coercive parent-child interactions, limited positive parent-child interactions and heightened family conflicts warrant further exploration. In addition, poverty has been identified as a significant predictor of abuse, and can contribute to parent-child stressors and lack of mitigating social advantages.

Reporting laws require a report be made when a mandated reporter has a “reasonable suspicion” of abuse. This criterion is intended to ensure that a maximum number of abused children are identified and protected. Judging what constitutes a “reasonable suspicion” in practice, however, can be difficult. Mental health professionals often consider a continuum of abuse indicators as well as the perceived costs and benefits of reporting, such as how the person suspected of abuse will react, what the outcome will be, and whether or not the report will result in greater risk to the child. In the absence of clear physical indicators or verbal reports of abuse, professionals must rely on direct observations of children and families to determine when a report should be made.

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