National Child Abuse Prevention Month Reminds Us To Love & Protect The Children In Our Lives

April 6, 2010

Media reports of child abuse and neglect are never in short supply, but we can expect to hear even more about this topic during April as government and community activists take advantage of National Child Abuse Prevention Month to focus attention on the need to love and protect our children.

April has been recognized as National Child Abuse Prevention Month since 1983, a year after the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives designated the first National Child Abuse Prevention Week as part of its ongoing efforts to focus attention on the problem and find solutions. Now, the Office of Child Abuse and Neglect, within the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, coordinates activities and provides updated information and statistics each April. Further information about National Child Abuse Prevention Month is available at

Here in Connecticut, we have laws on the books that recognize the obligation of responsible adults to intervene when they suspect that a child is being abused or neglected. Under our “mandated reporter” law, certain professionals whose work brings them into close contact with children are required to report their suspicions, and risk legal sanctions if they fail to do so. The list of mandated reporters – who are immune from civil and criminal liability if they act in good faith – include day care providers, clergy, various medical and mental health professionals, various types of counselors, police, social workers, teachers and school staff who have come to suspect abuse, or the risk of abuse, in the course their work.

Whether or not one is legally required to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect, I believe that we are all morally and ethically required to do so. The state Department of Children and Families (DCF) operates a statewide Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The department urges anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect, or believes that a child is in danger of being abused or neglected, to call the hotline at 1-800-842-2288. The department is required to tape record all calls to the hotline. However, individuals who make their reports in good faith are granted immunity from civil and criminal liability, while those who knowingly make false reports are subject to legal consequences.

Understandably, adults who learn about abuse or neglect directly from a child victim are concerned about how to respond. Information provided on the state DCF website urges adults to refrain from expressing horror, shock or disapproval of anyone involved in the child’s story. Rather than express blame, express judgment, or press for details, it is best to tell the child that you believe what you are being told and that you will contact people who can help. Then, please, call the hotline. Further information about responding to suspicions of child abuse and neglect, what constitutes abuse or neglect, state law regarding mandated reporters, and the details that should be reported to the hotline are available on the DCF website at

You may recall that I am the primary sponsor of legislation intended to protect children from potential legal harm resulting from sexual exploitation. I am happy to report that a version of Senate Bill 153, An Act Providing A Safe Harbor For Exploited Children, was recently approved by the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee and is now pending further legislative action. Under this bill, the courts would be required to assume that 16- and 17-year olds prosecuted for prostitution were coerced or enticed. Furthermore, the bill states that no one under the age of 16 could be charged with prostitution and calls for increasing the penalties for promoting prostitution of persons younger than 18.