Human Services

Child Protective Services: 703-228-1500

 

If you feel that a child is in immediate and severe physical danger, call Child Protective Services and/or local law enforcement immediately.


What Is Child Abuse? How Do I Recognize It?

  • Child abuse includes physical abuse, physical neglect, sexual abuse and mental (emotional) abuse of a child under 18 years of age by a parent or other caretaker.
  • Physical abuse is a non-accidental injury to a child by a parent or caretaker. You may see frequent and unexplained bruises, burns, cuts or other injuries. The child may be overly afraid of the parent's reaction to misbehavior.
  • Physical neglect is a parent's failure to give the child food, clothing, hygiene, medical care, and/or supervision. You may see a very young child routinely left alone at home or you may know that a severe illness or injury is not being medically treated. A neighbor's child may frequently turn up at your door - inadequately dressed for the weather - saying his parent told him to stay away. Physical neglect is hard to judge. . .sometimes what you see is simply poor judgment, but not neglect. Sometimes what you see is the result of poverty, not parental neglect.
  • Sexual abuse ranges from non-touching offenses, such as exhibitionism, to fondling, intercourse or using the child for pornographic materials. You may see sexual behavior way beyond what is expected for the child's age. A young child might have sudden, unusual difficulty with toilet habits or there may be pain or itching, bruises or bleeding in the genital area. The child may not be able to tell you directly about these problems.
  • Mental (emotional) abuse includes severe rejection, humiliation and actions intended to produce fear or extreme guilt in a child. You may see a parent who verbally terrorizes the child, who continually and severely criticizes the child, or who fails to express any affection or nurturing.
  • In short, an abused or neglected child is one whose physical or psychological health or development is seriously harmed by the behavior of a parent or caretaker.

How Can I Decide Whether to Report the Abuse I Suspect?

  • Deciding whether or not to report suspected child abuse can be difficult, yet it is an important first step toward protecting a child who might be in danger. 
  • You must have a reasonable suspicion of child abuse. 
  • You do not have to be able to prove the abuse or be absolutely certain that it occurred. 
  • You might be mistaken, but it is better to err on the side of the child. 
  • Not reporting your suspicions may mean that abuse will continue. 
  • If you make a report in good faith, you are immune from civil or criminal liability.

Will the Child Be Taken Away From the Home If I Report?

  • Only if the child is at risk of serious harm will she or he be taken away from the home. Removing the child from the home is not a routine or usual occurrence. Even if the child must be removed, the goal is to keep the family together.

What Happens After I Report?

  • After receiving a valid report, Child Protective Services (CPS) assesses the situation to determine if there is immediate danger to the child. 
  • If caseworkers find that maltreatment has occurred, or services are needed to prevent abuse and neglect, CPS has a number of options. 
  • These include working out a plan with the family - to protect the child and to help the parents solve the problems which are leading to abuse or neglect.

Will My Name Be Confidential? Do I Have To Give My Name?

  • Reports may be made anonymously, but it helps a great deal if you give your name. Giving your name will assure that the CPS worker who investigates the case can contact you and that important information will not be forgotten or lost.
  • Your name will be kept confidential. CPS will not release identifying information about the person who made the report to the family who was reported. 
  • Usually the name of the person making the report will be made known only if a court orders it or if court testimony is involved.

How Will I Know What Happens?

  • You will receive a letter of acknowledgement from CPS, but otherwise you may not know, except by seeing changes in the child and family. CPS works under strict confidentiality rules, for the protection of everybody involved.

What Else Can I Do If I Think That A Parent I Know Is Abusing Or Neglecting A Child?

  • You can let the parent know that you are concerned about her or him. Realize the parent may be under stress, feeling lonely and isolated or inadequate as a parent. Offer your support, or encourage the parent to seek other help - perhaps a parenting class or support group.
Arlington County
Child Protective Services
Dedicated to the safety of children, reducing the incidence and recurrence of child abuse and neglect, helping children and families recover from the trauma of child abuse and neglect, and preventing unnecessary out-of-home placements of children. Social workers validate, investigate, and assess reports of child abuse and neglect in accordance with state statutes.

Last Modified: January 15, 2013
2100 Clarendon Blvd. Arlington, VA 22201 Tel: 703-228-3000 TTY: 703-228-4611