Lesson 1 - What to Report

Clergy members must be aware of and alert to the signs of child abuse. Red flags for abuse and neglect are often identified by observing children’s behavior, recognizing physical signs, and observation of family dynamics during routine interactions with parents. Coercive parent-child interactions, limited positive parent-child interactions and heightened family conflicts may warrant further attention. 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. It is important to understand that, legally speaking, clergy members only need reasonable suspicion rather than hard evidence or proof to report suspected child abuse. Judging what constitutes a “reasonable suspicion” in practice, however, can be difficult. In the absence of clear physical signs or verbal reports of abuse, clergy must rely on their knowledge of child abuse indicators and experience interacting with children and families to determine when a report should be made.

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