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GUVERCIN: Citizens must be aware of child welfare services

Column: The Bigger Picture

Children and youth are some of the most treasured individuals in terms of law and society across cultures and governments, but are unfortunately also one of the most frequently abused and neglected populations. 

More than 3.6 million referrals are made to child protection agencies every year, and the U.S. reportedly has one of the “worst records” among industrialized countries with a record of losing roughly 4 to 7 children every day due to abuse and neglect, according to the national Childhelp foundation, which works to prevent and treat child abuse across the U.S.

The most common form of maltreatment and reason for referrals to child protection agencies such as the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P) is neglect. Neglect can be physical in that a child is a victim or witness of domestic violence, does not live under stable or safe environmental conditions, does not have regular access to food or clean clothing, demonstrates consistent fatigue or listlessness or does not have any supervision. 

But it can also consist of psychological or emotional maltreatment, in that a child is consistently exposed to the behaviors of substance abusing or mentally ill parents who are not capable of ensuring their safety or wellbeing.

Abuse is also unfortunately extremely common, with approximately 18.3% of child abuse victims experiencing physical abuse, 8.6% experiencing sexual abuse and 7.1% being psychologically maltreated. Common signs of physical abuse include unexplained or concerning bruises, welts, burns, lacerations and fractures, which can vary in severity and may be a cause of embarrassment or fear when questioned in children. 

Physical abuse is such a rampant issue that of the children who died due to abuse in 2016, 41.6% were victims of this form of maltreatment. 

On the other hand, victims of sexual abuse often do not display any overt physical signs, and are usually discovered through complaints regarding genital/anal areas, symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases and an unusual knowledge about or preoccupation with sex. Most of the time, these victims are abused by people they know, such as family members, and can be abused through non-physical methods such as voyeurism and exposure to child pornography. 

There is a significant need for awareness and education of these realities on behalf of regular students and citizens because child abuse and neglect is a vicious cycle that begins with an abuser, and ends with the victims either becoming abusers themselves, being subjected to traumas that will not leave them for the rest of their lives and can even result in severe injuries or death to an innocent child. 

Furthermore, in New Jersey, every person is a mandated reporter, with state law (N.J.S.A. 9:6-8.10) requiring “Any person having reasonable cause to believe that a child has been subjected to child abuse or acts of child abuse shall report the same immediately.” This policy is more than just a suggestion in that it imposes a legal obligation on any witness or suspector of child abuse or neglect to report to the necessary agencies. 

This can be seen in N.J.S.A. 2C:43-3 and 2C:43-8, and 9:6-1, which subjects any person who knowingly fails to report suspected abuse to a fine of up to $1,000 or up to six months in prison, as they are, according to the law, a “disorderly person.” In light of these legal and moral obligations, it is also important to note that citizens are encouraged to err on the side of caution, in that even if they suspect something, it should be reported. 

By law, one is protected from civil or criminal liability, discharge from employment and discrimination if one makes a report out of good faith, even if their suspicion was found to be untrue or if they do not have proof. 

Not only is it our legal obligation to report any suspected or witnessed events of child abuse, but also it is our moral responsibility to prevent further potential harm to occur to a child who may be desperate for a helping hand. There is a strong misconception that agencies like DCP&P are ruthless entities that rip children away from their families, but what people do not know is that a significant portion of referrals end up with the child and family being reunited. 

The goal of these agencies is to provide the safest and most permanent solution for these children, which in some cases may include complete removal of parent rights, but in most cases consists of providing helpful services to families and children in recovery. 

Keeping these in mind, please visit the New Jersey State Government's website to report any child abuse and neglect, and to have access to toll-free hotlines that provide a variety of family and child services that are not necessarily linked to abuse. 

Dilara Guvercin is a School of Arts and Sciences senior  majoring in psychology and minoring in philosophy. Her column, "The Bigger   Picture," runs on alternate Fridays. 


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