April 2022 is National Child Abuse Prevention month in the United States.
According to Child Welfare, "National Child Abuse Prevention Month recognizes the importance of families and communities working together to strengthen families to prevent child abuse and neglect. Through this collaboration, prevention services and supports help protect children and produce thriving families."
Preventing child abuse and neglect isn't just a family issue, it is a community issue. When parents have access to more resources, especially in reducing stress and finding help with their children, child abuse and neglect are less likely.
As someone who grew up as a victim of alternating child abuse and neglect, this is an issue that is close to my heart. Children always deserve to feel safe. There is much that we, as adults, can do to help foster safe and caring relationships for children.
Protective factors are things that help to protect families from experiencing child abuse and neglect. The more protective factors are present in the family, the less likely that child abuse will occur.
According to Child Welfare, there are six protective factors:
Nurturing and Attachment - "We love each other."
Knowledge of Parenting - "I can choose what works best for my children."
Parental Resilience - "I deserve Self-Care."
Social Connections - "We are connected."
Concrete Support - "I can find help for my family."
Social/Emotional Competence - "I help my children learn social skills."
When parents have access to this type of protective factors, they will feel like better, happier and healthier parents overall. As a community, we can make it a practice to show that we are available to other parents as a resource for when they are struggling. We can also point parents we know to centers like Head Start that will set up additional community resources for them.
When it comes to our kids, it is important to work on fostering a Secure Attachment, which means that our kids have a feeling of trust and security with us. One way to do this is through using Attachment Parenting.
There are four different parenting styles:
According to Simply Psychology, "Attachment is defined as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings” (Bowlby, 1969), and may be considered interchangeable with concepts such as “affectional bond” and “emotional bond.”"
As parents, we want to create a lasting emotional bond with our children. That is the first protective factor against child abuse, and perhaps the most lasting. Attachment is the basis of the relationship that we have with our children. This relationship will flow more smoothly if a secure attachment is established early in our children's lives.
Fostering attachment is one of the most important aspects of our own parenting. We will also be able to notice reactions in children around us if they do not seem to have a secure attachment with their parents.
Caring for Yourself as a Parent
In order to make sure that you are the best parent you can be, it can be helpful to read books about parenting, and seek out community resources for childcare and development classes. Often, these will be available from local community centers, or the local Health Department.
Educating yourself about parenting is a big step towards increasing protective factors in your own life.
Joining local parenting groups, or online parenting groups on places like FaceBook can also be helpful, so that you will be able to talk to other parents about the dilemma's that you face. Having support is important for the future so that you will be able to rely on other parents when you are struggling.
Self-Care as a parent is also crucial, so that you will be at your best to take care of your children. Remember the analogy, on the plane, they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first before you help someone else. You can't help others, like your children, when you are feeling depleted and burnt out.
If you are struggling emotionally, it can also be beneficial to talk to a therapist, either for yourself or your family. Having a professional to help you through your struggles can help you learn better coping skills as well as having a compassionate listening ear to guide you.
Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect
It can feel scary if we suspect that a child we know is being abused or neglected. If you do suspect that something may be wrong, there is help available for you.
Signs of child abuse and neglect may be obvious, or they may be more subtle.
According to Safe Path, "Signs of physical abuse can be different for different children. Some children may have more obvious bodily injuries and may not be able to explain all of their injuries or their explanations do not match with the type of injury seen. Other children may have more behavioral changes such as increased aggression, depression, expressing or showing fear around certain people, difficulty concentrating or social withdrawal. Some children may attempt to hide their injuries by wearing clothing that would conceal injuries even when the clothing is much too warm for the season."
If a child's behavior seems to change suddenly, and they seem withdrawn or otherwise upset for seemingly no reason, there may be issues of abuse or neglect at home.
Some signs that a child may have been sexually abused, according to Safe Path, "The best indicator of child sexual abuse is when a child tells someone that he or she has been abused. Children rarely lie about sexual abuse. There can be some physical indicators of possible sexual abuse such as a child with sexually transmitted diseases, bleeding in the genital areas, blood in the child’s underwear or if a child or teen is pregnant. If you have a child that has these physical indicators, it is best to have the child examined by a doctor. However, many times, sexual abuse does not have any physical indicators. If a child’s behaviors appear to change drastically, the child appears to have an interest in sexual activities that are beyond his or her developmental level, and/or you have concerns about sexual abuse, it is best to speak with a professional about your concerns and make a report."
It can be frightening if a child reports to you that they have been abused in any way. Most importantly, it is important to believe their reports, as it is very difficult for the child to come forward and report that they have been abused.
Once a child tells you that they have been abused, be sure to call the authorities right away, so that they will receive proper care.
If a child is being neglected at home, the signs may be less overt than with abuse. Neglect is when proper care is not taking place for the child at home. They may be left alone for long periods of time, or the parent may be at home, but still ignoring the child's care.
According to Family Education, "Child neglect is characterized by failure to provide for the child's basic needs. Neglect can be physical, educational, or emotional. A child of any age, sex, race, religion, and socioeconomic background can fall victim to child neglect. A large number of neglected children are never reported to the authorities who can help them and their families."
Abuse and neglect can both harm a child, physically and psychologically. Often, this maltreatment at home can result in trauma to the child.
How to Report Potential Abuse and Neglect
According to Child Welfare, "There are ways you can help stop child maltreatment if you suspect or know that a child is being abused or neglected. If you or someone else is in immediate and serious danger, you should call 911."
You can look at the Child Welfare site for more resources, as well as state reporting hotlines.
According to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF),
All states have a system to receive and respond to reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. If you suspect a child is being harmed, or has been harmed, you should report your concerns to the appropriate authorities, such as child protective services, in the state where child maltreatment is occurring. Each state has trained professionals who can evaluate the situation and determine whether help and services are needed. Most states have a toll-free number to call to report suspected child abuse and neglect. Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children’s Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, provides a list of Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Numbers and information on how to make a report in each state.
Another resource for information about how and where to file a report of suspected child abuse or neglect is the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline. Childhelp can be reached 7 days a week, 24-hours a day, at its toll-free number: 1.800.4-A-CHILD (1.800.422.4453).
When you intervene to help a child, you may feel like you are betraying their parents in some way. This is especially true when it is within your family that the abuse or neglect is occurring.
It is important to remember that in these situations, the needs of the child should take precedence above anything else. Also, it is not advisable in many situations to try to talk to someone you suspect of abuse by confronting them directly. This can often cause the abuse to escalate, especially if you let them know that a child has told them something which the abuser feels is a private part of their family life.
If you are questioning what to do, calling the Child Abuse Hotline can be a good first step, so that you can get all of your questions answered by a professional.