In my office, we sometimes get calls or e-mails from neighbors who are concerned about children in their community. And I know that for every call I receive there are some who WANT to call but don’t get around to it. So, I’d like to share some strategies for helping the children and families you observe. The first thing I want to encourage you to do is, if you feel safe, try to get to know the family. Ask if they need help or they are doing alright. Being neighborly will help you to assess the situation.
Sometimes we see frustrated parents lash out at a child in the grocery store, on the bus, or at the playground, for example being physical with a child who is running around or crying. Another example might be finding a young child wandering on the street without a parent or sibling nearby. Yet another example, we see a child with a caregiver who appears to be significantly impaired. If it’s a crisis, contact the police (non-emergency dispatch in Ramsey County is 651-291-1111), describe what is happening and where, and ask them to assist with addressing the issue. In these types of “real time” experiences, the police are best able to address any immediate safety concern, gather identifying information about the child or children and their parents or guardians, and make a report to the appropriate child protection agency if needed.
If you believe a child is experiencing child abuse in your school, your faith center, or sports team, call the child protection agency in the county where the child lives (in Ramsey County, 651-266-4500, option 1). The child protection agency will want as much information about the child(ren) and their parent(s) as you can provide, as well as a description of your concerns. Child protection agencies will take phone reports from non-mandated reporters — which is every one of us.
It takes a village to raise a child and we are that village. If you can get to know the family that seems to be struggling and be a supportive neighbor, you will be a great resource at least — and you might save a life at most.