April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Child abuse comes in all forms – emotional, physical, and sexual. It includes a child’s exposure to domestic violence – his or her own or the witnessing of physical and sexual abuse of others. Often times, the perpetrator of child abuse is a parent or caregiver, the one who should most protect a child. For many children, reports of child abuse came too late, after a child was seriously injured or killed.
The emotional scars from childhood abuse run deep, often severely damaging a child’s mental health and development. A child often does not have the skills or tools to report what is happening to him or her. Therefore, it is important to recognize signs of abuse and for adults to speak out, no matter how awkward it may feel.
A report of suspected child abuse may be made anonymously and it will often lead to an investigation in which caregivers and children are often offered supportive services, such as counseling, parenting classes, and anger management instruction. It does not always lead to the separation of a child from his family, although there are some circumstances where removal is in the child’s best interests for the child’s safety.
Increased risk factors for abuse include domestic violence in the household or in a caregiver’s own childhood, substance abuse, and untreated mental illness.There are warning signs of abuse including frequent injuries or unexplained marks or bruises on a child, a child’s reluctance to go home or fear of a caregiver, poor hygiene, inappropriate clothing, untreated illnesses and injuries, excessive punishments, frequent absences or tardies at school, inappropriate sexual behaviors or knowledge of same, and being left alone.
Children are often on “high alert” and “walking on eggshells” around an abusive caregiver, never knowing what might set him or her off. A caregiver’s extreme moods, paranoia, drug or alcohol use, and the constant bullying of the child are additional signs. There may be a corollary in the way a caregiver treats other adults and the way the caregiver treats his or her own children. If a caregiver is volatile and angry with other adults, one can only imagine how he or she reacts in anger or frustration to a child behind closed doors.
Family members, friends and neighbors are the first line of defense to child abuse. Often, they have a “gut feeling” about the abuse but dismiss it because they do not have better proof or there is a reluctance to get involved. Speaking up can be a matter of life or death for a child. There are professionals who are equipped to investigate these matters. I implore you to speak up for children in these circumstances. Give them a voice. Give them a chance. Be their hero.
If you suspect child abuse in Georgia, call 1-855-422-4453. A report can be made 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 1993–2021 Debra M. Finch, PC, All Rights Reserved.
**Debra Finch serves as a Guardian Ad Litem in high conflict custody cases out of Superior Court. She has been qualified and testified as an expert in the area of child custody in numerous Superior Courts throughout the State of Georgia. Her role as a Guardian Ad Litem is to represent the best interests of the children involved in the case.
Debra Finch conducts a thorough investigation – interviewing the parties and witnesses (such as, teachers, doctors, mental health professionals, social workers, family members). She visits the caregivers’ homes and meets with the children. She also reviews extensive educational, medical, and legal records. She works closely with Attorneys, Psychologists, Parenting Coordinators, and Therapists involved with the children and the family. She attends all hearings and legal proceedings in the case.
At the conclusion of her investigation, Debra Finch issues a comprehensive, and often lengthy, report to the presiding judge, outlining her investigation and her recommendations as to and custody and parenting time.
Often the case will settle after the GAL report is issued. In the event it does not, Debra Finch will attend the final trial of the case and testify as to her investigation and findings, subject to examination by counsel and the Court.
Debra Finch is a member of the National and Georgia Association of Counsel for Children and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. She often speaks to other legal professionals on topics related to her work as a Guardian Ad Litem.**