Dept of Health & Human Services (DHHS)

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Frequent Questions

About Child Abuse and Neglect
What is child abuse?
Who is required to report child abuse?
Are there penalties for not reporting?
Am I meddling?
How do I report child abuse?
What things should I report?
What will happen after I report?
What are some signs of child abuse?
What are some signs of emotional damage?
What are some signs of neglect?
What are some signs of sexual abuse?

About Foster Care and Juvenile Court
How do I become a foster parent?
What is juvenile court?

What is child abuse?
Wisconsin law defines different types of child abuse

Physical Abuse
Physical injury inflicted on a child by other than accidental means. Physical injury includes, but is not limited to, lacerations, fractured bones, burns, internal injuries, severe or frequent bruising or great bodily harm.

Sexual Abuse
Sexual intercourse or sexual touching of a child, sexual exploitation, forced viewing of sexual activity, or permitting, allowing or encouraging a child to engage in prostitution.

Emotional Damage
Harm to a child’s psychological or intellectual functioning which is exhibited by severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal or aggression.
Emotional damage may be demonstrated by observable changes in behavior, emotional response or learning which are incompatible with the child’s age or stage of development.

When a parent or caregiver fails, refuses, or is unable, for reasons other than poverty, to provide the necessary care, food, clothing, medical or dental care so as to seriously endanger the physical health of the child.


Who is required to report child abuse?
Certain people are required by law to report suspected child abuse. These people are called "mandated reporters." Mandated reporters include

medical examiners
child care providers
all medical & mental health professionals
day care providers
alcohol and other drug abuse counselors
marriage & family therapists
treatment staff employed by or working under contract with a county department
professional counselors
physical therapists
occupational therapists
speech therapists
emergency medical technicians
social or public assistance workers
school administrators, teachers, counselors,
group home or residential care center staff,
police and law enforcement officers, and
mediators under s.767.11,


Mandated reporters are required to report suspected abuse and neglect of any child they see in the course of their professional duties. Persons required to report must also report situations in which they have reason to believe that a child has been threatened with abuse or neglect and that abuse or neglect is likely to occur.

Any other person may report if there is reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected or has been threatened with abuse or neglect.

Are there penalties for not reporting?
Persons required to report and who intentionally fail to report suspected child abuse or neglect may be fined up to $1,000 or imprisoned for up to 6 months or both.

 Persons who report in good faith are immune from civil or criminal liability.


Am I meddling?
Deciding to get involved in a situation of suspected abuse or neglect can be difficult. However, your decision may be crucial to a child not only today, but also in the future. Abused and neglected children often carry life-long scars and may mistreat their own children. Abusive and neglectful parents need services and support in order to stop the cycle of abuse or neglect.


How do I report child abuse?
Contact DHHS, the Sheriff's department, or your local police department -- by telephone or in person. To get in touch with DHHS, call 262-741-3200 or call toll free 800-365-1587.


What things should I report?
Explain as well as you can, what happened or is happening to the child. Describe the nature of the abuse or neglect. Be as specific as possible.
Be prepared to give the name, address, and telephone number for the child and also the name of the parent or caregiver, if it is different from the child's name. Even if you do not know all of this information, report what you do know.
Tell all you know about the situation.


What will happen after I report?
A social worker from DHHS will assess the situation according to statutory guidelines and determine what must be done to protect the child and help the family.
Services available to help the family and the child include counseling, in-home services, assistance or training and self-help groups. In severe situations, it may be necessary to temporarily place a child in out-of-home care.
A person who is mandated to report suspected child abuse or neglect will be informed by DHHS what action, if any, was taken to protect the health, safety and welfare of the child who is the subject of the report.


What are some signs of child abuse?
Following are the major signs of physical and sexual abuse, emotional damage and neglect. One sign, or even several signs in combination, may not indicate that abuse has occurred. The signs may have resulted from accidents or medical conditions, or may indicate emotional illness or other problems. If a number of these signs occur together or if they recur frequently, child abuse and neglect may be suspected.

Bruises, welts on face, neck, chest, back
Injuries in the shape of object (belt, cord)
Unexplained burns on palms, soles of feet, back
Fractures that do not fit the story of how an injury occurred
Delay in seeking medical help
Extremes in behavior: very aggressive or withdrawn and shy
Afraid to go home
Frightened of parents
Fearful of other adults


What are some signs of emotional damage?

Low self-esteem
Severe depression
Severe anxiety
Failure to learn


What are some signs of neglect?

Poor hygiene, odor
Inappropriately dressed for weather
Needs medical or dental care
Left alone, unsupervised for long periods
Failure to thrive, malnutrition
Constant hunger, begs or steals food
Extreme willingness to please
Frequent absence from school
Arrives early and stays late at school or play areas or other people’s homes


What are some signs of sexual abuse?

Pain, swelling or itching in genital area
Bruises, bleeding, discharge in genital area
Difficulty walking or sitting, frequent urination, pain
Stained or bloody underclothing
Venereal disease
Refusal to take part in gym or other exercises
Poor peer relationships
Unusual interest in sex for age
Drastic change in school achievement
Runaway or delinquent
Regressive or childlike behavior


 Immediately contact DHHS, the Sheriff's Department, or your local police.  To get in touch with DHHS, call 262-741-3200 or call toll free 800-365-1587.


About Juvenile Court
What is Juvenile Court?


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