Law enforcement sharpens skills in identifying child abuse

Last year 55,400 children were reported at risk

Last year nearly 37,000 child abuse and neglect referrals, involving about 55,400 children, were received by the Department of Social and Health Services in Washington state.

With those staggering statistics in hand, DSHS has joined with the Washington State Patrol to give law enforcement officers a keener eye when they deal with children.

Law enforcement officers will be carrying a little card tucked into shirt pockets to help them identify child abuse.

"Law enforcement officers are mandated reporters (of child abuse), but they haven't had the experience working with abused children," said Kathy Spears, media relations director for the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

Recognizing that the lack of opportunity to work with DSHS social workers in investigating allegations of abuse and neglect is handicapping officers, DSHS and the Washington State Patrol have joined together to create the pocket cards that could help officers recognize the signs of serious child abuse and neglect.

The "KNOW THE SIGNS" cards list 13 signs officers are asked to consider when dealing with children.

Warning signs are:

-unexplained injuries (bruises, burns, welts).

-difficulty sitting or walking.

-unusual sexual knowledge/behavior.


-fear of a caregiver.

-shrinks from approaching adults.

-afraid to go home.

-unexplained absences.

-unexplained lags in physical development.

-failure to provide basic needs.

-begs/steals food or money.

-sudden behavioral changes.

-poor hygiene.

For more signs, visit the DSHS website at:

A state law RCW26.44.050 specifically outlines the action a law enforcement officer can take when child abuse is suspected.

RCW26.44.050 reads as follows: A law enforcement officers may take, or cause to be taken, a child into custody without a court order if there is probable cause to believe that the child is abused or neglected and that the child would be injured or could not be taken into custody if it were necessary to first obtain a court order, pursuant to RCW 13.34.050.

"Mandated reporters (of child abuse) are police, nurses, doctors, social workers, school employees and others, who are required by law to report suspicions of abuse or neglect," said Spears.

Until the pocket cards became available through the DSHS internet, the mandated reporters were on their own to research child abuse and ways in which it can be detected.

"This handy card is one way that we can assist first responders in protecting kids from further risk of harm," said Cheryl Stephani, assistant secretary for the DSHS Children's Administration.

"All of us are responsible for protecting children and keeping them safe. We also are responsible for supporting our community partners in their efforts to protect kids," she added.

"Public safety is our mission, and helping develop the pocket cards is just another way we can help protect children," said Chief John Batiste of the State Patrol.

"We also help children by inspecting the school buses they ride, conducting fire safety inspections in child care facilities and helping to find missing children," said Batiste.

Anyone who suspects a child or children are being abused is encouraged to call the DSHS toll-free number 1-866-END-HARM (1-866-363-4276). The after-hours number, answered 24/7 by DSHS employees, is 1-800-562-5624.

Of course, life-threatening emergencies should be directed to 911.

For more information about reporting suspected child abuse in Washington state, visit the DSHS website at


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