It’s the unthinkable. An unsafe family in which a child is neglected or worse, abused. It’s more common than you think and often leaves children in some form of temporary out-of-home care such as foster care. More often than not, an abused or neglected child is unable to safely return to their family. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month to bring light to these harrowing issues and provide hope for those who are affected. Become more aware by learning the warning signs of child abuse and how you can help prevent children from becoming victims.
What are the signs of child abuse?
Child abuse encompasses the most serious harms committed against children including physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Child fatalities are the most tragic consequence of child abuse. The Child Welfare Information Gateway states that approximately 3.5 million children are victims of child abuse. Children in their first year of life have the highest victimization rate with alcohol or drug abuse being the primary cause of victimization.
Maltreatment of children refers to the lack of quality care a child receives from their parents or legal guardians. When adults harm a child or place them in immediate danger, neglect occurs. Often the underlying circumstances that lead to children becoming victims of abuse and neglect is an adult’s misuse of drugs and alcohol, domestic violence, poverty, inadequate housing, job loss and/or mental illness. Maltreatment can also occur when a child is not adequately supervised such as leaving a child alone in a car.
The Office of Children & Family Services provides some indicators of child abuse or maltreatment, although some children may never show any of these signs.
- Visible injuries on both sides of the body (accidents usually occur on just one side)
- Frequent and inexplicable injuries such as bruises, cuts or burns, often appearing in distinctive patterns such as grab marks or cigarette burns
- Repeated aggressive, destructive or disruptive behavior
- Passive, withdrawn or emotionless behavior
- Fear of parents or going home
- Symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Injuries to the genital or rectal area
- Difficulty or pain in sitting and walking
- Sexually suggestive or promiscuous behavior
- Expression of age-inappropriate sexual knowledge
- Sexual verbalization to or victimization of other children
Maltreatment or Neglect
- Obvious malnourishment or fatigue
- Stealing or begging for food
- Lack of personal care including poor hygiene and torn or dirty clothes
- Untreated need for medical, dental or vision care
- Frequent tardiness or absence from school
- Child inappropriately left or unattended to without supervision
How can you help?
If you witness or observe any of the above signs in a child, don’t ignore it, report it immediately to someone in authority. The best way to prevent child abuse outside of the home is to pay careful attention to the warning signs.
The abuse and maltreatment of children within the family unit is often due to feelings of isolation, stress or frustration from the parents. They need support when parenting gets challenging. Remember that we’re all in this together. We can build stronger communities by simply lending an ear or offering a helping hand when times get tough.
SAFY provides therapeutic foster care and behavioral health services for children who are victims of abuse and neglect. These services focus on the safety and well-being of both youth and parents, providing a deep level of care that addresses trauma healing, parental skills building, school success and coping skills.
Childhelp is a national organization that meets the physical, emotional, educational and spiritual needs of abused, neglected and at-risk children. They provide prevention, intervention, treatment and community outreach programs to help prevent child abuse, one child at a time. The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline can be reached toll-free, 24/7 at 1-800-422-4453. All calls are confidential, and the hotline offers crisis intervention, information and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service and support resources. If you believe a child is in immediate danger, call 911 or your local police department.