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FAQs About Child Abuse

In the eyes of the law, at what age can a child stay home alone?
In New York State, there is no legal age for children to stay at home alone.  In other states, the law varies .  Parents are advised to use their best judgment when considering leaving their child home alone, keeping the child’s maturity level and safety issues in mind.
Parents have a responsibility to supervise their children or arrange for proper competent supervision so that the child’s minimum needs are met for adequate food, clothing, shelter, health and safety.
The need for supervision varies with the age and developmental stage of the child. Very young children should never be left alone. Some 15-year-olds should not be left alone while some 12-year-olds certainly can handle being home alone for a bit of time.
A caretaker must take into consideration several factors when deciding the appropriateness of leaving a child alone; these include:

  • the child’s age and maturity;
  • any special health or (other) special needs of the child;
  • the relative safety of the child’s environment;
  • the length of time the child will be home alone;
  • the responsibilities assigned to the child (will he/she have to cook his own meals or baby sit for a younger sibling?);
  • the availability and capability of older siblings in the home;
  • the availability of neighbors, relatives and the parents in case of emergency
  • any past history of injuries or accidents when the child was left alone.

Can I report a case of suspected child abuse without giving my name?
Anonymous reports are accepted in all 50 states. The more information you can provide about the situation when you make the report, the easier it will be for follow-up from child protective services.

What happens once a suspected case of abuse and neglect is reported?
In New York State, an investigation is initiated by the local child protective services unit and a determination is made as to whether the case is unfounded or indicated.  If the case is deemed to be unfounded (there was not enough credible evidence to substantiate the alleged abuse), the case is closed.  If the case is indicated, the process of diagnosis, protection and intervention begins. The goal is to help families begin to heal by providing protective and/or preventive services, and if necessary, initiate court action and/or take the child into protective custody to protect the child from further harm.

What if I suspect a child over the age of 18 is being abused—can I report that?
The abuse and neglect of any child under the age of 18 must be reported. Most states use this age because most persons 18 and older are presumed to be adults. However some have made exceptions and different cut off dates, some due to special circumstances of the child. Consult with your own state’s law for specific reporting requirements. In New York State one would call adult protective services.

What can I do to help a friend who confides in me that she is being physically abused at home?
Let your friend know you care and want to listen to her. Continue to believe in her and offer your support. Perhaps one of the most important things you can do is encourage her to talk to a trusted adult, preferably someone who is a mandated reporter (such as a teacher, social worker, guidance counselor, etc.) because mandated reporters have the expertise and experience in dealing with situations like hers. Remember though, it is not your job to solve all your friend’s problems. Help her figure out who to tell and how to tell it. Perhaps you can even go with her when she’s ready to disclose. Also, consider sharing your concerns with your parents rather than trying to carry all this on your shoulders alone.

What can I do if my child is being sexually harassed at school?
Sexual harassment in schools is illegal. It can threaten a student’s physical and/or emotional well-being, influence how well a student does in school and make it difficult for one to achieve his or her potential.
Title IX of the Federal Education Amendments protects students from sexual harassment. Federal law requires that every school receiving federal funds have a policy against sexual discrimination (sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination). Ask your school administration for a copy of its policies and procedures for resolving sexual harassment complaints. Ask who is responsible for coordinating efforts to comply with Title IX. It is the school’s responsibility to take the appropriate steps to end the harassment and to ensure that it does not happen again. Children have the right to go to school feeling safe and free to learn; sexual harassment impedes that process.