Suppose you see a parent abusing his or her child in public. What, if anything, should you do?

It depends on the circumstances, child abuse experts say.

In cases where the slapping or berating are mild, you may be able to defuse the situation by approaching the parent and asking if he or she needs help. Or engage in small talk to refocus the parent’s attention. But do so only in a friendly manner so you don’t antagonize the person, experts advise.

If you’re in a store, you may want to contact the manager or store security. Often a disapproving look will cause the abusing adult to ease up.


In situations where the abuse is extreme or life-threatening, however, intervention is necessary. But do not confront the parent physically or verbally. That could escalate the abusing adult’s anger and put you at risk. Instead, call the police or the Child Abuse Registry hot line at (714) 938-0505.

If the parent leaves before the police arrive, try to identify the abusing adult--through a license plate, for example, or a check that the adult wrote in the store. Identification is also necessary when reporting child abuse to the Child Abuse Registry.

If you have any doubt as to whether the incident qualifies as a case of child abuse, a hot-line social worker will be able to help make the determination.