Blog by Hannah Gill, social work intern
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and whether you are a lawyer, legal provider, social service practitioner, or any other professional working with unaccompanied minors, it is key to educate ourselves and recognize the warning signs. This knowledge is necessary to ensure the safety of children who oftentimes find themselves with caregivers they have not seen in many years or barely know
Unaccompanied children have likely faced more trauma in their relatively short lives than the average person will face in their entire lifetime. On their journey to the U.S, unaccompanied children will likely face traumatic experiences such as human trafficking, robbery, physical/psychological violence and a lack of food and shelter. Unfortunately, the abuse does not stop when they arrive at the border. Research shows that between FY2015 and FY2018 the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) received over 4,500 sexual abuse and sexual harassment reports. Of these 4,500 reports approximately 1,300 were substantiated enough to be given to the FBI. Furthermore, while most of these cases were involving minor to minor abuse, approximately 178 alleged staff members were the perpetrators. It should go without saying, no matter who the offender is, any abuse is unacceptable.
Texas, like most states, has mandatory reporting laws requiring a person with knowledge or suspicion of child abuse to report it to the authorities. You can find the provision in the Texas Family Code at section 261.100. CILA has produced a helpful resource, “Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Mandatory Reporting Considerations in Texas,” which can be found on our website under the “Resources” and then “Additional Resources” tabs. Just reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for the password.
Please know that you are not alone and you do not have to have all the answers. If you suspect abuse or if a child discloses abuse/neglect to you, the resources below can serve as a guide to help navigate you through the process. You can also reach out to CILA for technical assistance.
Four Key Tips:
- Remain calm.
- Acknowledge the strength that it took to disclose this and thank them for trusting you.
- Discuss what the next steps may look so they are aware of what is to come.
- Remember, your job is not to investigate the abuse/neglect. Your role should be one of support, empathy, compassion and guidance!
- DFPS – When and How to Report Child Abuse (state.tx.us)
- What_If_Your_Child_Discloses_Sexual_Abuse.Pdf (Nctsn.Org)
- Child Abuse Help: How to Help an Abused Child | HealthyPlace
- Prevention and Awareness of Child Abuse, Neglect, including Trafficking of a Child Toolkit and Resources | Texas Education Agency
- National Child Abuse Prevention Month – Child Welfare Information Gateway
- How to Report Child Abuse and Neglect – Child Welfare Information Gateway