Affiliate Public Service Project: Listening to “The Little Voice”

Volume 37, Number 2

by

Marcella C. Ducca is an Assistant Editor of The Affiliate and an Associate in the Atlanta, Georgia, office of Greenburg Traurig, LLP.

Have you ever been in line at the grocery store and witnessed a parent hit a child? Ever thought about intervening but refrained for fear of what would happen to the child if you did speak up? Under the laws of many states, you actually have a duty to report what you saw.

Enter “The Little Voice.”

“The Little Voice” is an education and outreach program sponsored by the Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA). It was the seminal project of TYLA Immediate Past President Jennifer Evans Morris and her board. Along with Kristy Piazza, current TYLA Vice-President, Natasha Brooks, current TYLA Treasurer, and the entire TYLA Family Law Committee, Morris created “The Little Voice” in February 2010 with the goal of educating the public and professionals about their statutory obligation to recognize and report child abuse.

 

Educating the Public

“The Little Voice” educates the public that they have a statutory duty to report suspected child abuse. Under Texas law, any person having cause to believe that a child is being abused or neglected shall immediately make a report within a reasonable amount of time. And it’s not just Texas—there are only a handful of states that do not have reporting requirements for suspected child abuse.

In order to spread this message, TYLA has produced a Public Service Announcement (PSA) for TV and radio, in both English and Spanish, to educate the public on its duty to report. Local TV and radio stations donated time for these PSAs to air. So far, the PSAs have run over 3,000 times on stations across Texas. The TYLA distributes posters and pamphlets educating the public about its duty to report. As of this writing, over 2,300 posters have been distributed. The TYLA also distributes magnets, pencils, Band-Aids, and even temporary tattoos advertising the project and bearing the website address for “The Little Voice,” www.tyla.org/thelittlevoice, as well as the numbers for the Texas Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-252-5400) and the National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-4-A-CHILD). TYLA actively participates in the Walk to Action, a one-day, 20-mile walk aiming to raise money to prevent child abuse and bring attention to the cause. The next Walk to Action takes place in San Antonio, Texas, on November 5, 2011. More details are available at www.walktoaction.org.

Helping Professionals Identify and Report Child Abuse

Another large part of “The Little Voice” is outreach to professionals who work or interact with children and who are in a good position to observe signs of child abuse. Professionals such as teachers, doctors, nurses, or child day-care workers that have cause to believe that a child has been abused or neglected or may be abused or neglected must make a verbal report within 48 hours. A professional may not delegate to or rely on another person to make a report. Under Texas law, a “professional” is any individual licensed or certified by the state or who is an employee of a facility licensed, certified, or operated by the state and who, in the normal course of official duties or duties for which a license or certification is required, has direct contact with children. Professionals whose personal communications are otherwise privileged—such as attorneys, members of the clergy, medical practitioners, social workers, and mental health professionals—still have a duty to report within 48 hours. Members of the TYLA have visited and still are visiting on an ongoing basis hundreds of schools, day-care facilities, summer camps, churches, and medical facilities to educate these professionals about their statutory duty to report. The TYLA also attends various statewide conferences in order to reach these professionals. In conjunction with these visits, the TYLA has produced a 35-minute video that it distributes to professionals to further explain the duty to recognize and report child abuse. To date, TYLA has distributed over 1,600 of these videos.

What Is Child Abuse and How Can I Recognize It?

There are four main types of child abuse: emotional, neglect, physical, and sexual. Emotional abuse can be calling a child names, shaming, humiliating, or belittling a child. Children who have been subject to this type of abuse are withdrawn, fearful, overly anxious about doing something wrong, and have difficulties interacting with others and showing affection. Neglect, the most common form of child abuse, is a pattern of failing to provide for a child’s basic needs, whether it be adequate food, clothing, hygiene, or supervision. Signs of neglect may include when a child is malnourished, lacks personal cleanliness, steals or begs for food, and is unattended for long periods of time. Physical abuse involves physical harm or injury to the child. Children will often make excuses for, or intentionally hide their injuries, with this type of abuse. Sexual abuse involves subjecting a child to any type of sexual act, whether a child is physically contacted or not. This is often the most difficult type of abuse to spot and one sign could be a child’s strong reluctance to be around a specific individual.

What Happens After You Report Child Abuse?

Many people are hesitant to report abuse because they are unsure of what would happen to the child after the suspected abuse is reported. Every state’s process is different, but in Texas, after a report is lodged, Child Protective Services investigates the matter and determines whether abuse did occur, whether they are unable to determine whether abuse occurred, or whether it did not occur. If Child Protective Services finds abuse or neglect, it will put in place a safety plan, which does not automatically mean the child is removed or the person involved is arrested. Not every report results in a child being taken away from his or her home, with criminal charges against the parent(s), guardian, or individual involved. Often, many families receive counseling, parenting classes, or other programs to address the problem the child is having. If a child is removed, it is usually temporary until the parents receive counseling. If removal is necessary, a child is placed with a family member or close friend. Foster care is considered a last resort.

How Your Bar Association Can Implement This Program

Despite a statutory duty to report suspected child abuse, some people may still be hesitant to report. Any hesitancy should disappear when faced with these alarming statistics: 13,700 children are abused and neglected every day. Four children die from abuse every day. “The Little Voice” has made a huge impact on educating the public and professionals to recognize and report child abuse, but the focus of “The Little Voice” is Texas. Consider reaching out to the TYLA and implementing a Little Voice-type project in your region. The TYLA has outstanding and very effective educational materials that they are willing to share with other affiliates. More details can be found by visiting the TYLA’s “The Little Voice” website at www.tyla.org/thelittlevoice or by contacting Tracy Brown, Director of Administration for the TYLA, at tbrown@texasbar.com. And, remember, if you suspect child abuse, report it to your local authorities or the National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD.

 

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