The signs of child abuse and neglect are not always as obvious as a broken bone or bruise. Being able to identify whether a child is the victim of abuse or neglect is the first step to helping to protect a child.
Signs of abuse can include a regression in development, such as bed-wetting or thumb-sucking, fear of going home, increased absences from school, poor hygiene, wearing clothing inappropriate for the weather or that is too small or too big for them, or displaying inappropriate sexual behaviors.
If you suspect child abuse or neglect in the State of Delaware, you must report it under Delaware law. 16 Del. C. § 903. Every Delaware resident is a "mandatory reporter" of suspected child abuse or neglect.
Reports must be made by calling the the Department of Children, Youth and their Families' 24-hour child abuse and neglect hotline at (800) 292-9582. For more information about the reporting process, please visit this web page.
I am often asked what happens when I make a report? The Department will do one of three things when a report is received:
- Accept the report and investigate the allegations;
- Refer the report to law enforcement for investigation; or
- Document the report, but not investigate the allegations.
All reports to the Report Line are reviewed by a Division of Family Services' supervisor as part of the decision-making process. A case that is accepted for investigation by the Division of Family Services will be transferred to an investigation caseworker. If you are interested in what happens as part of the investigation, click here.
In addition to making a report, you have the option as a relative or non-relative of a child to file a Petition for Guardianship of a Minor in the Delaware Family Court. Once approved by the Court, a guardian may exercise the same powers, rights and duties respecting the care, maintenance and treatment of the child as a parent typically would. The guardian takes responsibility for the health, education and welfare of the child. A parent may still be entitled to visitation and contact with the child and continues to have a responsibility to financially support the child, irrespective of any visitation schedule.
Children who are dependent and neglected or abused by their parents may be taken into the custody of the Division of Family Services, if no one steps forward to provide the child with a safe and stable environment. The Division of Family Services has a duty to make reasonable efforts to locate a relative placement for a child taken into custody, but if none is available, the child will be placed in a foster home. A future blog post will address what rights you may have to visitation, contact or placement of a child currently in foster care. Please check back next month.
To learn more about filing for guardianship of a minor child, visit the Family Court website or schedule an initial consultation with a family law attorney.