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It’s our responsibility to keep child abuse out of the shadows PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 29 May 2014 00:00

By Sheri Hink-Wagner

The Wauneta Breeze


Our children are our future, so why is it that child abuse and neglect so often live in the shadows? I don’t know the answer, but my guess would be fear. Maybe we fear we didn’t see what we thought we saw, it’s not “our business” or, we fear what will happen to us if we say something. We may be more apt to gossip about it than to do something.

As adults, it is our responsibility to report witnessed or suspected child abuse or neglect. In fact, Nebraska state law requires us to do so.

Last week a non-custodial parent living in Chase County came into my office. He was concerned about his children and their safety. He did speak up. When he heard of abuse to his children he didn’t let it go. He alerted authorities in an attempt to keep his children safe from future abuse.

The question becomes, how often do we do the same? When we witness or suspect abuse do we always turn it in? I hope so.

According to this concerned father there were a number of adults who heard his child being abused and one who eventually came forward and told him about it. We need to do better. The Nebraska Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline (1-800-652-1999) should have had at least two or three calls before this father called the police the next day when he discovered the abuse.

Is reporting child abuse a scary concept? You bet it is. At least one witness within hearing range told the father she hesitated before stepping forward. She was fearful for her safety and the safety of her children. No one can blame her for having that fear. But by overcoming it she may have provided for the safety of someone else’s kids. Now that’s commendable.

The other individuals who supposably heard the abuse most likely had their own reasons for not reporting it–maybe they were afraid of getting involved or that they might be wrong.

We’ve all heard stories about lives ruined due to false abuse claims filed, I know some personally. But, the fact remains that it is our responsibility to report abuse when we witness it. We have to trust ourselves to know what we saw or heard is wrong and then have the courage to say something.

The Nebraska Health and Human Services website states, “State law requires any person who suspects that a child has been physically or sexually abused or neglected to report it promptly to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).”

So, just what is child abuse? HHS defines child abuse in three ways. Physical abuse is when a child has a non-accidental injury. Emotional abuse is when parents always put blame on a child or always reject a child and sexual abuse is when an adult uses a child as part of any type of sexual act.

Neglect can take two forms: emotional or physical. Emotional neglect is when a child is not given chances for feeling loved, wanted, secure and worthy by their parent. Physical neglect is when a child’s basic needs–such as food, clothing, supervision, medical needs–are not provided by a parent.

According to Nebraska HHS Child Abuse and Neglect Report for calendar year 2012 a total of 34,038 reports of child abuse or neglect were made to their agency. You can view the report at

Of those, 22,023 (64.7 percent) were screened out because they “did not meet the level of severity or definition of Child Abuse and Neglect that required assessment by a Children and Family Services Specialist” and 12,015 (35.3 percent) were accepted for investigation.

At the end of the year, these 12,015 investigated reports resulted in 2,723 substantiated cases with a total of 4,306 victims.

In 2012 the agency received 28 calls from Chase County. Of those, 14 were accepted for investigation. Thirteen of the 14 cases investigated were found to be unsubstantiated. The investigating parties were unable to locate anyone to complete an investigation on the last case.

How frightening is this? As a parent–no, as a human being–it terrifies me.

I’d like to think that every child is safe and loved in their home (and everywhere else), but of course, we don’t live in a world of all sunshine and roses. By deluding ourselves we only succeed in keeping child abuse in the shadows.

Therefore, I whole-heartedly urge you to report child abuse or neglect each and every time you witness or suspect it. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s the law. HHS screens claims received through the hotline. According to Lynn Ayers, Executive Director of the Child Advocacy Center in Lincoln, “When in doubt, report it. Every report matters.”

I recently wrote a news story about a former Palisade man who has co-founded a non profit, Nebraska Kids TRUTH (, aimed at empowering adults to stand up for abused children. I encourage you to check it out and pledge to advocate for children if/when you witness abuse.

It’s up to us to bring child abuse out of the shadows and into the light so children can get the help they need. We need to be their voice, a child’s life may depend on it.