It is important to provide children with a safe and healthy environment. In Oklahoma, anyone who believes a child is being abused or neglected is legally responsible for reporting it. Reports can be made any time of the day or night as the hotline is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week by calling 1-800-522-3511.
Following are brief definitions and examples of child abuse and neglect. These definitions and examples are not exhaustive and are only meant to orient families to the topic broadly. Further questions about abuse and neglect can be directed to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (in Stillwater (405) 707-3700, online http://www.okdhs.org/library/news/mk/docs/comm07202011c.htm).
1) What is Child Abuse?
Child abuse is harm to a child by the person that is responsible for the child. This includes threats to harm and failure to prevent harm. Child abuse is not limited to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
- An example of physical abuse
Mariam had just changed 18-month-old dirty diaper when he had another messy diaper; this made Mariam angry. She thought that putting him in hot water will punish him for the dirty diaper. When she put him in the tub, he cried loudly. Mariam slapped him to stop the crying and didn't notice the scald marks until after the bath was over.
- An example of sexual abuse
Nine-year-old Lee's mother works at night. Her stepfather is around when she goes to bed, so many evenings he lies down beside June. As she goes to sleep, he rubs her chest and private areas.
- An example of emotional abuse
Isaac is disappointed with his 11-year old son, “You're such a little coward,” he tells the crying child "It's the same every week. You always make your mother and me ashamed. Sometimes I can't believe you are really my son."
2) What is Child Neglect?
Neglect is a failure to provide for a child’s basic needs. This includes but is not limited to not meeting a child’s needs for food, clothing, shelter or safety, leaving a child in an unsafe area, and not providing a child necessary medical attention.
- An example of neglect
Joseph worked late nights in the lab, and the family needed more money. Amani looked for work, but the only job she could find required her to leave home at 9:30 pm. The children, ages two and six, were alone for a few hours until Joseph got home around midnight or 1:00 am.
Parents sometimes ask how old a child should be to be left home alone. Following is the response OKDHS provides to that question:
There is no law or policy in Oklahoma for how old a child has to be in order to be left alone.
Here are the recommended guidelines for parents:
- Infants and children under 6 years of age should never be left alone without adult supervision.
- Generally, grade school children who demonstrate the ability to be responsible and mature may be left alone one or two hours during the day with access to a responsible adult.
- Grade school children should never be left to care for younger children.
- Middle school children who demonstrate the ability to care for themselves without help may be left alone for up to four hours during the day and evening.
- Middle school children may care for one or two younger children if there is constant access to a responsible adult.
3) What are the signs of Child Abuse and Neglect?
The effects of child abuse and neglect can last a lifetime. They can affect how children grow, how they do in school, in relationships and in the things they do.
- Possible signs of abuse and neglect
Bruises, cuts, burns, broken bones, constant hunger or thirst, lack of interest, more knowledge about sex than is normal for the child’s age, sudden changes in behavior, etc.
It is important to note that children do not always present the same behaviors or symptoms as a result of abuse or neglect. In addition, some of these behaviors and symptoms could occur due to reasons other than abuse and neglect. For more information about signs please refer to “Recognizing Child Abuse and Neglect: Signs and Symptoms” a fact sheet from the Child Welfare Information Gateway (https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/signs.cfm)
4) What should I do if I feel like a child is being abused or neglected?
According to Oklahoma law, everyone who has reason to believe that a child is a victim of abuse or neglect must report it. To report call the OKDHS Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-522-3511.