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Talking to Parents About Child Abuse
Authors: Saraswathy Ramamoorthy with Judith A. Myers-Walls, Ph.D., CFLE

As a childcare provider, your relationship with the parents is important. You do not want to ruin your good relationship with the parents. However, your responsibility to the children comes first. You may have to talk to parents about child abuse. Your reasons for talking to parents may be different. You may want to know the parents better and may want to interact with them one-on-one. You may suspect possible abuse or see possible signs of abuse in a child and may want to talk to the parents about it. You may even have to tell the parents that a child abuse report has been filed against them. Whatever the reasons may be, talking to parents about abuse is not easy. It is a very sensitive issue and must be handled carefully.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind when talking to parents about child abuse:

     • Identify the appropriate person to talk to the parents. It is important that you first identify the person who should talk to the parents. Most often, it is the person that directly takes care of the child, which is you. In certain situations, it might be appropriate to have your supervisor or the director of the child care center present with you at the meeting. There might be situations where a team needs to be present at the meeting. Other people who could possibly be present at the meeting include a social worker, CPS agency representative, pediatrician etc.

     • Be professional. You may know the parents well from daily interactions with them. Remember that parents will be very anxious, angry and worried in such situations. Respect their feelings. Conduct the meeting in a private place and make them as comfortable as possible.

     • Be honest and direct. At the start of the meeting, clearly explain the reason for the meeting. If you or your program have taken any action or are planning to, you must explain the action to the parents clearly. Many parents will not know that childcare professionals are legally required by law to report child abuse. Explain to the parents what the law requires and allows you to do. Explain to them what the law requires and allows them to do.

     • Avoid blaming or judging. Often, situations that appear to be abuse or maltreatment turn out to be something else. Also, it is not your responsibility to find the cause for the abuse. Avoid blaming anyone for the abuse or making judgments.

     • Never betray the child’s confidence. It is inappropriate to say, for example, “Your child said that…” or “We were told by Mike that…” Do not betray the confidence of the child. Remember that children trust you with what they have told you.

     • Do not react with anger, shock or disgust. Avoid displaying any emotions. Be neutral and calm.

     • Assure the parents of confidentiality. The parents must know that all information will be kept confidential. However, you must also explain to the parents that some information might have to be shared with an appropriate third party such as the CPS agency, doctor etc.

     • Assure the parents of your support. The parents need to know that you and the child care program will support then in this difficult time. Assure them that their child will still receive good care and love. Let them know that you care about the family. Parents will be more likely to open up and seek help when they know that you are willing to help them.

     • Inform parents if they have been reported. If a report has been made against the parents, they have a right to know about it. They will feel let down if they are not informed.

Dealing with child abuse is not easy. You must keep in mind that there are many situations that are not clear cases of abuse. Sometimes, it is very difficult to recognize abuse or neglect. It is also very difficult to approach parents about abuse. You must be very careful and sensitive when dealing with abuse. Also, your interactions with a child and the parents will influence how you feel about them. It will affect how you want to handle a situation of abuse. You must keep personal thoughts and feelings out of this. There may be times when you cannot believe that a child’s parents, relatives or family friends can possible abuse a child. You must remember that abuse and neglect can happen in any family and with any child. People who abuse children can be of any race, gender, income level, educational level or culture. As a child care provider, your responsibility to the safety of the children in your care is most important.

For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at

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