Recently we've had a couple of cases in the office that made me realize that parents don't know that they can anonymously report concerns they have about child abuse or neglect just like I do.
Here are some examples of situations that might warrant a parent calling the state to report a concern:
Neighbor children ages 4 and 7 are often left alone for more than an hour at a time. They come over to your house to play with your children but don't seem like they've had a bath in several days. Their clothes don't seem clean and don't fit well. When they are over, they often seem very hungry and want to stay. Parents are hard to get a hold of. They seem nice enough when you walk the children back home, but almost daily the children seem to end up at your house because their parents aren't around for some stretch of time.
Your 4-year-old tells you that an older child had repeatedly asked to see her private parts. She wasn't sure what to do and so she did what he said. The older child has touched her vagina on several occasions and has shown her his penis as well. You confront the 8-year-old's parents, who don't seem to think this is a big deal at all.
You hear your neighbors repeatedly yelling at each other and swearing. You hear them calling each other names and yelling derogatory things at the children, too. At one point you hear one of the children yelling in fear, "Don't hit me again! Please don't hit me! I'll stop! I'll never do it again!"
All of these situations are pretty straightforward and in reality, you don't even need this much to go on. As an adult, if your radar is up and you are concerned about the well-being of a child, you can call the state and anonymously report your concern. I know that we often don't want to meddle or get involved in other people's lives, but when children's lives and well-being are at risk, you have a responsibility to do something. It truly is anonymous. Unless the case goes to trial and you need to testify as to what you saw or heard, no one will know it was you who called. There is a hassle and headache for the family that has a case opened, of course, but if there is something amiss, it is an opportunity for them to get help, if needed, and if real dysfunction is present, to get the kids to a place of safety and care.
If you suspect a child is at risk of abuse or neglect, I encourage all adults — whether or not you're a mandatory reporter like a doctor or a teacher — to please call the State of Michigan at (855) 444-3911 and anonymously start the ball rolling to get the child help.
Dr. Molly O’Shea is a Troy pediatrician.