April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month
This is a time for us as a community to recognize that we each can play a part in promoting the well-being of children in our community. Child abuse prevention efforts are the best hope for reducing this terrible crime. In order to do this, we must take a stand against abuse in our community. Child abuse can be categorized four ways: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect.
Definition of Child Abuse and the Signs
The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services defines child abuse as “any recent act, or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act, or failure to act, which presents an imminent risk of serious harm”. According to Safe Horizon, a victim’s advocacy group, these signs may indicate possible child abuse:
- Unexplained injuries. Visible signs of physical abuse may include unexplained burns or bruises in the shape of objects. You may also hear unconvincing explanations of a child’s injuries.
- Changes in behavior. Abuse can lead to many changes in a child’s behavior. Abused children often appear scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn or more aggressive.
- Returning to earlier behaviors. Abused children may display behaviors shown at earlier ages, such as thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, fear of the dark or strangers. For some children, even loss of acquired language or memory problems may be an issue.
- Fear of going home. Abused children may express apprehension or anxiety about leaving school or about going places with the person who is abusing them.
- Changes in eating. The stress, fear and anxiety caused by abuse can lead to changes in a child’s eating behaviors, which may result in weight gain or weight loss.
- Changes in sleeping. Abused children may have frequent nightmares or have difficulty falling asleep, and as a result may appear tired or fatigued.
- Changes in school performance and attendance. Abused children may have difficulty concentrating in school or have excessive absences, sometimes due to adults trying to hide the children’s injuries from authorities.
- Lack of personal care or hygiene. Abused and neglected children may appear uncared for. They may present as consistently dirty and have severe body odor, or they may lack sufficient clothing for the weather.
- Risk-taking behaviors. Young people who are being abused may engage in high-risk activities such as using drugs or alcohol or carrying a weapon.
- Inappropriate sexual behaviors. Children who have been sexually abused may exhibit overly sexualized behavior or use explicit sexual language.
Some signs of abuse are more obvious than others. In this case trust your instincts. Suspected abuse is enough of a reason to contact the authorities.
The Impact of Child Abuse
In 2012, a national study found that over 1,600 children died as a result of abuse and neglect. That is a rate of 2.2 children per 100,000 in the national population. Another study that investigated the economic impact of abuse found that child abuse costs the nation as much as $258 million every day. This amounts to about $94 billion each year.
What to do if you Suspect a Child is Being Abused
If you suspect a child has been abused….
- Stay calm. Showing alarm will only increase the amount of stress the child is already experiencing.
- If the child confides in you, let them know you believe them.
- Show interest and concern for their situation.
- Reassure and support the child.
- Do NOT ask leading questions (example: “Your mother punches you, doesn’t she?”)
- Take action – it could save a child’s life!
Each state has a system to receive and respond to reports of possible child abuse. Professionals and concerned citizens can call statewide hotlines, local child protective services, or law enforcement agencies to share their concerns.
Kern County has a Child Abuse Hotline that you can reach 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That number is:
Childhelp® is a national organization that provides crisis assistance, and other counseling and referral services. They also have a hotline that operates 7 days a week, with professional crisis counselors. All calls are anonymous. Contact them at:
If you observe a child being abused, call 9-1-1 immediately.