We’ve all been there. At the grocery, sitting in traffic, or just walking down the street when we see it: an interaction between an adult and child that makes our heart sink and our stomach tumble down to our toes. It might include screaming, pushing, shoving, punching, or smacking a kid across the face. Maybe it involves a menacing adult towering over a terrified child while making threats about what will happen when they get home.

Sometimes it’s nothing. Literally. There is no adult in the area where unclaimed preschoolers roam. The neighbor’s young kids are home alone day and night and you’ve never seen their parents.

What’s child abuse and what’s just bad parenting? When do you intervene and when do you walk away? Who do you call? What do you say? What happens next?

Since 1974, every state in the US has been required to establish child abuse reporting laws and hotlines. Wherever you live, there is a number to call when you have concerns about the safety and well-being of a child.

This is where we get really excited about the internet and the wealth of good information at your fingertips. Click here for a state by state directory of important phone numbers. Try it out for fun. Alabama is the first listing. The link sends you to a pretty image of the state with counties divided by different colors. You just click on the county you are in and BAM, a whole list of contact information and other good stuff pops up. Just like that. Like magic!

Good Things to Know:

  • Kindness and empathy go a long way to diffuse a parent on the edge.
  • Even so, sometimes kids need to be protected from their parents.
  • Call your local children’s services agency if you suspect abuse or neglect. The more info you have regarding who lives in the house (including pets), any history of mental health or substance abuse issues, family violence, and the child’s physical and mental condition, the better.
  • Call 911 if you are witnessing child abuse in public, meaning an adult is actively physically harming a child to the point of leaving visible injuries.
  • As long as you have a license plate or address and credible information regarding a child being abused or neglected, knowing the child’s name and/or exact age is not necessary.
  • Be a Good Neighbor:
  • Keep an eye out for the kids in your neighborhood and through your interactions show them you care.
  • Offer a kind word or token of support to a stressed-out parent.

Knowledge is power. Spend some time on Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Empower yourself so you’ll know what to do next time you see something that makes your heart sink and your stomach tumble to your toes.