What do I do if I suspect a child of divorce is being abused or neglected?


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Last week, we discussed listening to children of divorce. Part of listening to them includes noticing if they are giving you clues about being abused or neglected.

Children of divorce will try to protect their parent if the parent or the parent’s significant other is the abuser. This is especially true if the abuser is the parent the child doesn’t get to see a lot. Or if the abuser has threatened them, the child may try to hide the abuse or neglect.

In case of abuse

In many cases of child abuse, children make up excuses for why they have bruises or abrasions. You might want to take a minute to document the situation. When you only see children for an hour or two every week or every other Sunday, it might be hard to remember if they had bruises or talked about such things before. However, if it is something suspicious, document it.

How to document

  • Use ink, not a pencil, to record your documentation, or record it in a computer file that will display the date the document was created.
  • Put it on a calendar, or date the documentation.
  • Write exactly what the child said.
  • Do not use terms such as “I think” or “I feel.”
  • Draw a body, and mark where the bruise or abrasion that the child mentioned was.
  • Include the names of any other adults who heard the conversation.
  • Include what was going on at the time you picked up on the potential abuse, such as storytime or snack time.
  • Record the names of other children who might have overheard the conversation.

Children are clumsy, and children get hurt, some more than others. If a child only shows up every so often and has new wounds each time or always has an old wound healing, take into consideration that the child may be abused. Never hesitate to call the authorities if you suspect child abuse.

Know the laws in your state*

National hotline:  1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)

Know the policies of your church and your state. Some states will allow you to report the suspected abuse to the senior pastor or other church leaders. Other states define anyone who suspects abuse as a mandated reporter.

Everyone working with children or ministering to children must keep up to date on the laws in their state. For example, in Florida where I reside, the law was changed in 2012 to state: “The Protection of Vulnerable Persons law ups the ante on the state’s previous reporting obligation, requiring anyone who suspects that a child has been abused to report those suspicions to the Florida Abuse Hotline; the reporting requirement formerly applied only when the alleged abuser was the parent or caregiver. The law also increases the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony for failing to report, with financial penalties increasing as well.”

Reporting abuse or neglect

Make sure to have

  • The child’s full name
  • The names of the child’s birth parents or guardians
  • The date of birth for the child and the parents
  • The school the child attends
  • Where the child resides (e.g., with the mom, dad, or primary caregiver such as a grandparent)
  • The address and phone number of the person responsible for the child’s care
  • Documentation that can be read to the investigator
  • Name, address, and phone number of your church and your personal information

Reporting can be a delicate issue. Make sure you discuss the issue only with church staff and others who need to know. Always follow the advice of your church staff and the guidelines of your church policies.

As for the child, each time you listen to a child, you are saying to the child, “You matter.” When you can recall parts of conversation from the week before, you are saying to the child, “You matter to me.” And when you inquire about specific situations from one time to the next time, you are implying, “You matter to those of us in your church family.”

When a child matters to you, the child will begin to realize he matters to God.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on July 7, 2014.

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3 thoughts on “What do I do if I suspect a child of divorce is being abused or neglected?

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