What to Do If You Suspect Your Child Is Being Abused at Daycare
When you dropped your baby girl off at Loving Rainbows Learning Center this morning, everything was fine. But after work, you pick up a toddler who can’t seem to stop whining. What’s going on? Then you notice her arm…it looks wrong somehow. One quick trip to the pediatric emergency room later, and you discover that your baby suffered a stretched nerve in her shoulder.
Now, your worries have just begun: will this heal completely? How much pain will she suffer? How can I best care for her? And, most of all: How could this happen at daycare??
There’s one answer that none of us want to be true, and we feel a cold trickle of dread thinking about it: child abuse.
Despite all the security cameras, “child-friendly” toys, enrichment activities, and caring staff that daycare promises us, they often cut corners to make a profit. When they do, it’s the children who pay the price.
Not every injury, illness, or problem that your child suffers while attending daycare is proof of mistreatment or abuse at the hands of daycare staff, but you’d be surprised how many are. Even neglect, like a caregiver noticing your child hurt herself, but not getting her medical treatment or saying anything about it, is technically “abuse.” So is being attacked by another child while under the eyes of a caregiver. For more information, please see our blog on signs of child abuse.
If you suspect your child might be suffering abuse, there are several steps that you should take immediately:
- Remove your child from the center. Even if you’re not sure, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your children. A temporary removal gives you time to investigate the situation while ensuring your child is out of harm’s way.
- Contact the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS). Report the potential child abuse right away. DCS has investigators who handle these situations and determine if any abuse has, indeed, occurred. They will also know what steps to take if the abuse is confirmed.
- Speak with other family members to see if they have noticed changes in your child’s behavior, and document the findings.
- Discreetly speak to other parents at the facility to see if they notice changes in their children’s behavior as well. Often times, the perpetrator will abuse multiple children in the same setting, or maybe another child witnessed the abuse.
- Arrange a visit with your child’s pediatrician. Pediatricians are trained to recognize the signs of abuse, and can evaluate your child and collect evidence.
- Document everything. ANY changes in your child’s behavior should be noted and well documented. This will be especially valuable if you proceed with a civil claim against the perpetrator to get justice for your child.
- Speak to a lawyer who knows how to handle child abuse cases in Arizona. You’ll be able to get good advice tailored to your situation for free, even if you don’t ultimately pursue a legal claim. Remember, the lawyer has seen this before and knows exactly what to do, so the sooner you make an appointment, the better.
Unfortunately, the numbers do not lie. In 2016, over 676,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect in the United States. That’s about nine victims per 1,000 children, or a little less than one in one hundred. And those are just the cases we know about. The American Society for the Positive Care of Children tells us the alarming truth: “The United States has one of the worst records among industrialized nations – losing, on average, almost five (5) children every day to child abuse and neglect.”
At the end of the day, you know your child better than anyone else. As a parent, you can never be too careful when it comes to leaving your child in the care of others, and you should always be on the lookout for the warning signs of child abuse.
What Happens After You’ve Discovered Abuse?
Your worst fears were realized. What now? Will the facility lose its license? Will your child suffer from this damage for the rest of his or her life? Will the perpetrator go to jail?
We just can’t answer those questions fully here. Every situation is different. But, we will give you the basics of what might happen after you discover the abuse.
It’s more than likely that the facility will lose its license, especially if criminal charges are filed, but it’s not a guarantee. Was only one employee to blame? Was it a management failure? Answers to such questions will affect whether the facility shuts down or not.
As for your child, it’s true that chronic abuse can definitely take a toll on someone—in fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that individuals who reported six or more “adverse childhood events” were likely to suffer from heart disease, lung disease, and other health problems, not counting the emotional and relationship damage—but again, every situation is different and every child is unique. We would recommend speaking with your pediatrician about what would be best to help your child recover fully, and also talking to a therapist as soon as possible.
As to what happens to the perpetrator, every state has its own requirements for punishing child abusers. In Arizona, this can take the form of criminal charges or a civil claim, or both.
- Criminal action: It’s up to the county prosecutor to decide whether or not to file a Child Abuse charge against the perpetrator. More evidence makes it more likely that charges will be filed. Caregivers can be charged with child abuse when they have custody of a child (anyone under 18) and either abuse the victim themselves, allow the abuse to occur, or place the victim in a situation that endangers the victim’s life or health. In addition, if a certain types of crime were committed against a child under 12, Arizona’s Dangerous Crimes Against Children statute will apply an enhanced prison sentence. For more details, please speak to a lawyer.
- Civil action: The parents or legal guardians of a child have the right to file a civil claim against the perpetrator and employer on behalf of the child. Since a criminal conviction will not always include restitution for the victim, people file civil claims against daycare facilities to recover money for the cost of finding a new daycare, taking time off work, doctors’ bills, medical care and therapy for the child, and the emotional harm done to the family. There is a statute of limitations (deadline) on how long you have to file a civil claim, so the sooner you contact an attorney, the better.
Arizona does have a Victim Compensation Program that provides financial assistance to people who suffered physical harm, mental distress, and economic loss directly resulting from a crime. Since daycare abuse is a crime, you may be able to receive compensation for your child in that way as well.
We’re glad you joined us for this blog series concerning the things you need to know about child abuse in a daycare setting, and we hope you never need this advice! Still, we encourage you to always be aware and on the lookout for any hint of mistreatment at the hands of childcare providers.
If you have any legal questions, at all, about child abuse in Arizona, feel free to call our daycare abuse attorneys at (602) 457-6222.
The Husband and Wife Law Team, Mark and Alexis Breyer, have eight kids of their own, and our firm understands the shock, horror, and heartbreak of these cases all too well. We’re here to help you and your child recover completely and move forward with your lives. If you need us, please call today.
Helpful Resources for Learning More:
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Children’s Bureau Factsheet
American Society for the Positive Care of Children
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Confidentially reviewed by Attorney Mark Breyer