Dealing with Child Abuse and Neglect
Child abuse, like domestic violence, can come in many different shapes and sizes. Child abuse can be physical, sexual, and/or emotional. Most people think of a bruised or bloodied child when they think of child abuse. The reality is that abuse can occur in far more subtle ways, and the signs can be much more obscure. Child abusers can be very clever in hiding what they do to children, using manipulation, threats of violence, or other tactics to keep children from telling the truth.
Child neglect usually occurs in three different ways: physical, education, and emotional. Examples of physical neglect include a parent's failure to provide food, clothing, or needed health care. Examples of educational neglect include failing to send children to school or causing them to be late all the time. Examples of emotional neglect include repeatedly belittling a child's self-worth or isolating the child.
If you think one of your children is the victim of child abuse or neglect, get help. To find out where to get help in your state, you can contact the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453). You can also contact your local child protection agency. This agency will usually do an investigation of any allegation of abuse or neglect it receives. If the agency finds evidence of abuse or neglect, it will take whatever steps it deems necessary to protect the child.
If you have reason to believe that your spouse is abusing one of your children, talk to a lawyer immediately or call a child abuse hotline. Your failure to take steps to protect your children from abuse or neglect could make you just as guilty as the actual abuser. You may not be charged criminally, but your children could be removed from your care and you may not get them back if they were severely abused.
False Allegations of Child Abuse During Contested Divorce Proceedings
In some divorce and custody cases, one parent will make false allegations of physical or sexual abuse against the other parent. This usually plays out in a couple of different ways. One scenario is that the mother accuses the father of sexually abusing the children. Another scenario is that the father accuses the mother's boyfriend, an older male child from another relationship, or another male family member of physically or sexually abusing the child. Whatever the situation, false allegations of this kind can tear families and children apart. If you truly believe your spouse or someone associated with your spouse is harming your children, you have a duty to act. Just be sure you are acting out of concern for your children and not as a way to get a leg up in your divorce.
If you are a parent who is wrongfully accused of abuse, do not discuss this issue with anyone but your lawyer. Follow his advice closely because you risk losing your children if the allegations are found to be true. The problem with allegations of this kind, especially with small children, is that there is not usually much evidence to support a finding one way or another. It may be hard to prove your innocence.