I see adults in my private practice. I can count on one hand, the number of times I’ve had to call our local Child Protective Services. Sometimes though, I hear stories that really make me wonder… I’m working with a 40-ish woman who is dealing with childhood sexual abuse issues that she just revealed 2 years ago. She is doing well, but recently she found out that her perpetrator is living out of state with family members – including 2 children. She doesn’t yet have contact information for him, but she is understandably very concerned about the safety of those children. While I believe she will warn the family once she can locate them, I was left wondering if I had a duty to warn should she decide not to do so.
Another recent situation I experienced involved a report from a client who expressed concern because her neighbor’s kids were being dropped off home after visitation each week and she would watch the father STAGGER out of the car and make a drunken scene as he left each week. Again, is this my duty to warn? Is this hearsay?
Students ask questions regarding these types of situations all of the time. Today I took my own advice. I called Child Protective Services and let them decide. The answer doesn’t always provide relief; you may know the frustration and angst of having your hands tied. I guess we do what we must do, knowing that we can’t always stop the pain, or the danger.
Deborah Legge is a counselor, an assistant professor, specializes in coaching counselors in private practice, and is the founder of InfluentialTherapist.com