'Go ahead and report'
Disturbing reports of violence and mistreatment surfaced this week during the investigation of missing 10-year-old Zahra Clare Baker.
Could those acts of violence have been stopped if someone knew what to watch for?
Area child abuse prevention adovocates say people shouldn't wait to act if they suspect violence against a child.
Possible indicators of physical child abuse include welts, unexplained burns, bald spots and unexplained bruises, said Adrienne Opdyke, victim advocate for the Children's Advocacy Center.
"If there's enough indication and they don't look like bruises from normal play behavior, I would encourage a parent to go ahead and report," Opdyke said.
The Children's Advocacy Center, located in Conover, helps victims recover from child abuse and raises awareness in the area about the dangers of violence against children.
The Children's Advocacy Center also collaborates with other agencies involved in the investigation and prevention of child abuse.
According to Beth Brandes of Catawba County Department of Social Services, the department received more than 2,500 reports last fiscal year involving more than 5,100 children.
Catawba County DSS also investigates claims of sexual and emotional abuse, as well as neglect.
"Let the investigators do their job," Opdyke said. "They're trained, and they know what to look for."
Signs of sexual abuse include a detailed knowlege of sexual behaviors, engaging in developmentally inappropriate sexual activity, regressive behavior like thumb-sucking and deliquency or depression.
Emotional abuse, which is defined as expressing opinions or attitudes that could affect emotional damage, can be exhibited in a child through low self-esteem, developmental delays or speech impairments.
Signs of neglect include extreme fatigue or hunger, frequent absences from school, reported abandonment or poor hygiene.
"Err on the side of protecting a child," Opdyke said.
Adults, however, should use caution when approaching a child about suspected violence.
"If that person has a relationship with the child, then they can talk to them if they feel comfortable," Opdyke said.
According to Catawba County Child Protective Services reporting guidelines, it isn't necessary to "investigate or be sure of concerns before reporting. It is important to provide as much information as you can to assure that the intake staff can make the appropriate decision about the legal right to intervene, and how to intervene safely."
When adults file a report of suspected child abuse, they are not required to reveal their identity and can't be required to testify if the case goes to court, Opdyke said.
Accoring to the Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina organization,
North Carolina law requires all adults, regardless of their relationships with a child, to report suspected abuse.
More than 122,000 children were reported abused during state fiscal year 2008-09 in North Carolina. In the same year, more than 23,000 cases of abuse and neglect were substantiated or found in need of services.
Reporters have the right to know investigation findings in their reported child abuse cases, as well as actions taken to protect the child involved.
Anyone who suspects a child is being abused is asked to call Catawba County DSS' 24-hour reporting line at (828) 324-9111.