Sometimes you find yourself worrying. A child you know has unexplained injuries. Or their behavior has suddenly become disruptive — or withdrawn. Maybe their grades have dropped, or they’ve become withdrawn from after-school activities.
Something is clearly wrong, and you suspect child abuse or neglect. What should you do?
In Tennessee, everyone is a mandated reporter of suspected child abuse and neglect. Being a mandated reporter means if you have concerns or suspicions about the well-being or safety of a child, you are required by law to call the Tennessee Child Abuse Hotline to report it.
You do not need to have evidence or even be certain that abuse is happening: You must simply have a concern.
The Tennessee Department of Children Services runs the 24-hour hotline: 1-877-237-0004.
Tennesseans can also go online to make non-emergency reports to DCS.
Tennessee offers free online training on how to report child abuse and neglect in Tennessee. Learn more about the mandated reporter training here.
In addition to reporting concerns of child abuse to DCS, Tennesseans who know or have reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been sexually abused should report that suspicion or knowledge immediately to local law enforcement, DCS or your local juvenile court.
Those who do report their concerns are protected. Tennessee law states that the name of the person reporting the abuse will not be released to anyone aside from the child protection team working the case. That team includes members of DCS, district attorney and law enforcement.
Tennessee law also states that any person who reports concerns of sexual abuse in good faith will be immune from any civil or criminal liability.
Possible signs of abuse and neglect include:
· The child has repeated injuries that are not properly treated or adequately explained.
· The child begins acting in unusual ways, ranging from disruptive and aggressive to passive and withdrawn.
· The child acts as a parent toward his or her brothers and sisters or even toward their own parents.
· The child may have disturbed sleep (nightmares, bed wetting, fear of sleeping alone, and needing nightlight).
· The child loses his/her appetite, overeats, or may report being hungry.
· There is a sudden drop in school grades or participation in activities.
· The child may act in ways that are developmentally inappropriate, such as sexual behavior that is not normal for his/her age group.
· The child may report abusive or neglectful acts.
Note: The above signs can indicate something is wrong but do not necessarily indicate abuse or neglect.