Mayerson Center for Safe and Healthy Children

  • Frequently Asked Questions: Reporting and Treating Child Abuse

    The Child Abuse Team at Cincinnati Children’s provides the following frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers.

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    + Whom do I call to report abuse?

    Contact the child welfare agency or police in the jurisdiction where you live or where the incident occurred or both.

    + What happens after I report abuse?

    The child welfare agency and the police are required to do an investigation and assessment within a given time frame, with response times that range from hours to days depending on the severity of the case.

    + Will my child have to testify in court?

    In most cases, no. Only a small minority of cases go to trial. Child abuse cases frequently are plea bargained, which means the child won’t need to testify in court, though he or she may still be interviewed by police, prosecutors and attorneys. When children are needed for testimony, many communities have victim advocate programs that help them through the process and relieve stress. Sometimes, adults may be permitted to testify to what children have said regarding an incident, or videotaped testimony or depositions may be permitted.

    + Does counseling help child abuse victims?

    Yes − and they need access to it immediately.

    Victims of abuse are likely to experience a variety of challenges, from feelings of sadness or anger to acting nervous or scared.  They may have difficulty sleeping or may even have changes in behavior, with increased outbursts or tantrums.  With these changes and struggles, normal parental support and care may not be enough to help the child improve feelings or behaviors.  

    There are now evidence-based treatments for children and their families that have been scientifically proven to reduce the negative feelings and behaviors that can occur in victims of abuse.  These interventions focus on making the child feel safe, control his response to stressful memories or situations and increase the communication between child and parent.  At the same time, parents are given additional tools to meet the new emotional and behavioral needs of their child.

    After an episode of abuse, some children may appear “normal.”  We know that some of these “normal”-looking children will develop problems with their emotions, behaviors or sleep several weeks to months after a traumatic event.  Children who have experienced abuse benefit from talking to someone where they can express their feelings about the event, receive praise for being so brave to tell others about the abuse, and learn safety skills that can reduce the risk of abuse in the future.   

    Children of all ages who are victims of abuse can benefit from treatment.  Some children benefit after just a couple of sessions and other children with more severe emotional and behavioral challenges may require a longer amount of time before they feel normal again.  After the initial visit, a treatment plan created by you and the abuse specialist will estimate the amount of time and type of intervention required to meets the specific needs of your child.

    For further information on the common emotional and behavioral struggles of victims as well as treatments designed for abused children, visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

    + Will my child ever get over the abuse?

    With proper support from parents and caregivers and professional counseling, it is possible for children to get over sexual or physical abuse and live normal, healthy lives. Children who have the best prognosis are those who have good relationships with parents and receive professional counseling. It also helps for children to receive counseling “booster shots.” This can help children deal mentally and emotionally with the abuse at various stages of development.

    + Does counseling help perpetrators of abuse?

    Yes, at least in some cases. But it’s by no means easy. Overcoming perpetrators’ denial and helping them learn empathy toward their victims are key issues for counseling. Counseling is more likely to succeed with perpetrators of physical abuse than sexual abuse. Sexual abuse often goes on a long time, becomes a pattern, and coexists with other issues, such as domestic violence, poverty or mental illness. The psychological problems that lead to someone committing sexual abuse are complex and difficult to overcome.