Parents rely on schools and daycare facilities to provide safe and nurturing care, but these important resources sometimes break our trust.
In 2016, 2,602 suspected reports of abuse in child care facilities were recorded in Pennsylvania. A total of 186 cases were substantiated—many of the alleged perpetrators were county employees.
Below, the child abuse attorneys at Hagelgans & Veronis explain how to detect child abuse, what to do if you suspect misconduct, and how civil litigation can help reduce abuse in our state.
Common Signs of Daycare Abuse or Neglect
Daycare abuse or neglect victims may not possess the language to describe their mistreatment. Perpetrators may threaten victims with violence or encourage them to keep misconduct a secret.
Because of these challenges, parents, guardians, and other caretakers should understand signs of abuse and neglect to ensure child safety.
Depending on the age of the child, and the nature of abuse, children may exhibit signs differently.
Generally speaking, signs of abuse may include:
- Frequent injuries
- Unexpected mood swings
- Unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts
- Watchful or nervous behavior as if waiting for something bad to happen
- Avoiding touch; flinches at sudden movements
- Fear of going to school or daycare
Common signs of daycare neglect might include:
- Few staff members or caregivers compared to children
- Unmentioned or untreated physical injuries
- Injuries caused by other children
- Diaper rash
Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services publishes an annual report to help identify contributing factors as well as victim and perpetrator characteristics.
If you’re not sure about a daycare, visit the facility unannounced. You can also mitigate concerns by finding a daycare that utilizes online video; parents can check in remotely throughout the day.
Suspected abuse or neglect should always be reported. Don’t hesitate to make the call. Documentation of repeat incidents can play an important role in seeking justice.
If you suspect abuse, contact local authorities immediately and have the child evaluated by a medical professional.
The ChildLine and Abuse Registry Intake Unit is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to take your call.
Call ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313 to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
Civil Justice for Daycare Abuse Victims
Depending on the circumstances of the case, criminal prosecution may or may not be viable. However, the civil justice system offers victims another opportunity to secure justice.
There are several ways in which a civil lawsuit can benefit the victim, his or her future, and the community at large.
- The burden of proof is much lower in civil cases
- Victims and families have more control over the case including how a settlement is reached
- Civil actions can provide anonymity for victims involved in sensitive cases
- Civil actions can provide more compensation (including pain and suffering) compared to criminal actions
- Civil actions often incentivize crime prevention on a large scale by pursuing multiple liable parties. For example, employers are not liable for criminal acts committed by employees, even if the employee is on the clock. Civil actions can hold daycare facilities liable if it’s proven they knew or should have known a crime was likely to occur.
Child abuse and neglect is a preventable public health problem affecting millions of families. Civil litigation can punish perpetrators and facilitate change in our communities.
Aggressive Representation for Child Abuse Victims
Generally speaking, only significant injuries warrant a lawsuit. However, the circumstances of every child abuse case should be investigated thoroughly.
Injury cases in Pennsylvania do not have damage caps—compensation for economic and noneconomic losses has no limit.
Punitive damages (damages intended to punish the defendant) can be limited. Punitive damages are awarded in cases where the defendant’s conduct is especially malicious or outrageous.
The plaintiff must present “clear and convincing evidence” that the perpetrator or daycare facility engaged in “willful or wanton misconduct or reckless indifference to the rights of others.”
Compensation for daycare abuse can be a resource to help the child overcome adversity. Compensation can include money for:
- Medical needs
- Mental health services
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Wrongful death
If you think something is wrong, trust your gut. Children need guidance and support to work through trauma, and you can help them by knowing what to look for and reporting misconduct.