Every April, we’re reminded that hundreds of thousands of children suffer abuse or neglect each year in the United States.
The purpose of National Child Abuse Prevention Month is to raise awareness about the causes and conditions that contribute to an abusive relationship between caregivers and children. It’s also an opportunity to educate ourselves about how to identify and hopefully prevent abuse or neglect when we come across it.
For starters, child abuse or neglect can occur in any family, regardless of race or social class. Families in which it does occur, however, usually have some of these characteristics in common:
- Immature and inexperienced parents
- Unrealistic expectations about child behavior by parents
- Substance abuse
- Parents who have suffered their own childhood trauma
- Lack of supportive networks
These characteristics seem to indicate that one of the best ways we can prevent child abuse and neglect is to strengthen families. We do this by helping parents acquire the skills and therapeutic support they need to overcome their own issues so they can care for their children better.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers all kinds of tips about we can help support at-risk families. You can find them here.
In the meantime, how can we tell if a child is being abused or neglected? Some signs include:
- Poor hygiene
- Unattended medical issues
Physical abuse –
- Unexplained bruises, burns, or welts
- Child seems frightened of caregiver
Sexual abuse –
- Pain, bleeding, redness in private areas
- Age-inappropriate sexual knowledge or play
Emotional abuse –
- Extreme aggression or passivity
- Delayed development
If you suspect a child is the victim of abuse or neglect, contact your local child protection agency or call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). The hotline is staffed 24/7.
Sometimes, it’s hard to know what to do if we suspect child abuse or neglect. The hotline is a good place to start. Whatever you do, don’t look the other way.
You might be the only chance that child has.
Every child deserves a life free of abuse or neglect. Every child deserves to be love, protected, and nurtured.
When we choose to “get involved,” to advocate on behalf of another, we give one more child a chance at such a life.