April Is Child Abuse Prevention Month

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.  Rising Sun Mayor Brent Bascom has made a local proclamation which you can read in full at this link.

According to the Division of Violence Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, child abuse and neglect are significant public health problems in the U.S.  In 2015, nearly 1700 children died in our country from abuse and neglect.  That same year, over 680,000 children were victims.  About 1 in 4 children have experienced abuse and neglect in their lives while nearly 1 and 7 experienced one or both just within the last year.  Many researchers and practitioners believe cases of abuse and neglect are underreported.

The emotional and physical damage to children of abuse and neglect are immeasurable.  While physical signs such as cuts, burns, bruises and broken bones can be short or long term, often the emotional effects can last a lifetime.  Victims of abuse and neglect can suffer ongoing mental health issues, slowed or non-social development, engage in risk taking behavior (drug abuse, high-risk sexual activity, etc.) and struggle with education and employment. 

The final implications to our society are staggering. The total lifetime cost associated with just one year of confirmed cases is $124 billion. 

Child abuse and neglect come in various forms from a parent, a caregiver or another individual who plays a custodial role. While children ages 3 and under are the most vulnerable because of their dependency, small size and inability to defend themselves, all children under the age of 18 can fall victim to and suffer the harmful effects of abuse and neglect.  The most common forms include:

Physical Abuse- the use of physical force such as hitting, shaking, burning or kicking.

Sexual Abuse- inducing or coercing a child to engage in various sexual activities or exposing them to various sexual activities.

Emotional Abuse- harm a child’s emotional well-being or self-worth through name calling, rejection, shaming, threatening and withholding love.

Neglect- failure to meet the child’s basic physical and emotional needs such as food, housing, medical care, clothing and education.

So how can these child abuse and neglect be prevented or stopped?  The easiest thing we can do as individuals is simply pay attention and know the signs.  If you see something, then say something.

Signs of physical abuse include: unexplained changes in a child’s body or behavior or regression to earlier developmental stages, any injury which can’t be explained, “on alert” behavior as if the child is waiting for something bad to happen, shying away from contact, flinches at sudden movements, is afraid to go home, is afraid of adults, wears clothing inappropriate to the season to cover injuries, fails at school or has frequent stomachaches or headaches with no medical cause.

Signs of emotional abuse include: behavioral changes, speech disorders, substance abuse, developmental delays, lack of attachment to the parent, excessively withdrawn, fearful or anxious about doing something wrong, acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, tantrums) or has very passive or aggressive behavior.

Signs of sexual abuse include: extreme sexual behavior inappropriate for the child’s age, sexual acting out on other children, genital pain/itching/swelling/bleeding/STDs, refusal to change for or participate in physical activities (like P.E. class), depression, runaway, fears being alone with adults or a particular individual, suicidal, trouble walking or sitting, nightmares, bedwetting or sudden changes in appetite.

Signs of neglect include: frequently absent from school, theft of food or money, consistently poor hygiene, lack of appropriate clothing for the season, frequently unsupervised or left alone, allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments or lacks basic medical or dental care.

One of these signs as an isolated incident may not be cause for concern.  But multiple signs or increased frequency of signs could be. Deciding to get involved in a suspected child abuse or neglect case can be difficult.  But reporting is not meddling.  So please do your part and speak up, even anonymously if need be.  You may save a child’s life or, at minimum, remove them from a harmful situation.  You can contact our local city police department or county sheriff’s department or call Indiana’s Department of Child Protective Services at 800-800-5556 (available 24 hours daily).