Cases of suspected child abuse should be reported to law enforcement, a child services agency, or a hot-line set up for this purpose. Members of the general public have an ethical and sometimes a legal obligation to inform authorities about suspected child abuse; in some regions, mandatory reporting laws require that citizens report child abuse, especially if they work in professions like medicine, teaching, or law enforcement. It is important to avoid attempting to intervene directly, as this could put a child in danger.
Signs of child abuse can sometimes be difficult to identify. A child with obvious injuries that appear to be inflicted by another person, rather than the result of sports or clumsiness, is a cause for concern. Likewise, children who experience behavioral changes, start acting out, or become shy and withdrawn may be experiencing abuse. Some children may report that they are being abused or sexually assaulted, but more commonly they attempt to conceal signs of abuse.
Child neglect is also reportable. Neglected children may be in poor health and often show signs of inadequate nutrition and hygiene, like looking dirty. Child neglect can also result in wearing worn, ill-fitting clothing or not having clothing appropriate for the weather. Many communities with extreme weather have community service programs to provide shoes, coats, and other gear to children, and children who do not have appropriate clothes may be experiencing child neglect.
Law enforcement officers can take reports of suspected child abuse from members of the public; it is possible to approach a police officer directly or to call a non-emergency number to contact a law enforcement agency. In a situation where a child appears to be in immediate danger, emergency services should be called immediately with as much information as possible about the situation. Child welfare agencies also accept reports of suspected child abuse and will investigate after receiving tips. Many maintain hot-lines as well as online submission forms to make submitting a report very easy.
Some regions have a hot-line to report suspected child abuse. The hot-line operator will take the information and refer it to the appropriate agency. Child services agencies consider reports, information they collect in investigations, and interviews with children, teachers, and other parties when they make decisions about how to act in cases of suspected child abuse and neglect. The goal is to look out for child welfare without separating children from their home environments unnecessarily.