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Raise awareness of child abuse

Published in Child Advocacy Services Author: Rena Sespene-Hinz, MSW, ACSW, LISW

Have you ever been in a public place and not known what to do when you witnessed a parent beginning to escalate with a child or felt uncomfortable because he/she is yelling at a child? Here are simple steps that you can take in the moment to make a difference in the lives of those around us:

Step 1: Assess yourself. Quickly assess your mood and ask yourself whether you are able to put aside your judgments and fears about perceived differences between yourself and the people you have encountered. Look for a simple, helpful thing you can do to improve and deescalate the situation.

Step 2: Assess the situation. Recognize that the agitation and behavior you are seeing may well be a result of the parent or youth feeling isolated and powerless in that moment. Think about if there might be a simple, empathetic thing you could do or say in that moment to make the environment and situation more comfortable and positive for everyone — actions as simple as:

  • Smile
  • Nod
  • Hold a door open
  • Let them go ahead of you in line
  • Offer to help parents bag groceries

Step 3: Act in the moment. Once you have assessed yourself and the situation, remember that your goal is to do something in that moment that can help diffuse and improve the situation at hand. You are not there to figure out what led to what you are seeing or to worry about what will happen later. What you can do — in that moment — is offer genuine intentional empathy and help.

What do I do if I think someone is abusing a child?


  • Support the child
  • Validate his/her feelings
  • Listen to the child
  • Believe the child
  • Report the suspected abuse

Do not:

  • Investigate
  • Ask leading questions
  • Make promises
  • Notify the parents or caregivers

Ask the following questions:

  • What happened?
  • Who did this to you?
  • Where did this happen?
  • When did this happen?

Other information you may be asked to provide:

  • Your name, phone number and relationship to child.
  • A description of current injuries or neglect conditions.
  • Name and addresses of child, parent and offender.

Report suspected child maltreatment immediately. The person who received the information directly from the child should be the one to report it.

Where do I report?

  • From 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. call:
    • Benton County Human Services, 320-968-5087
    • Morrison County Human Services, 320-632-2951
    • Sherburne County Human Services, 763-765-4000
    • Stearns County Human Services, 320-656-6000
    • Todd County Human Services, 320-732-6447
  • Local law enforcement in your area
  • In case of an emergency, call 911.

Help keep children safe — report suspected maltreatment.