April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, so I want to talk about how child abuse and neglect continue to be terrible problems. Abuse can be physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, or through neglect. Abuse happens in all cultural, ethnic, and income groups, and it is far too frequent.
In 2012 in the United States, there were approximately 679000 confirmed cases of abuse and neglect. There were an estimated 1,640 child fatality victims, an average of 31 children per week. 77% of child fatalities were under four years old, and over 42% were less than one year old. In 2012 there were 83 deaths in Georgia due to abuse and neglect making our state the sixth worst in the nation for child fatalities. In fact, homicide is one of the leading causes of death among children under age 5 in the United States. In 2012, there were 225 substantiated cases of child abuse in Whitfield County, and 80 in Murray County. In the state there were over 19000.
In April you will see pinwheels on the lawn of city hall in Dalton and the courthouse in Chatsworth. These pinwheels represent the reported cases of child abuse last year. There are far too many. There will be a ceremony at city hall on April 23 in Dalton and on April 28 at the courthouse in Chatsworth. If the issue of child abuse and neglect is important to you, try to attend one of these ceremonies.
Approximately one-third of sexual abuse cases involve children 6 years of age or younger. In the United States, statistics show that as many as one in 6 boys and one in 4 girls are sexually abused before turning 18. In 90% of these cases, sexual abuse occurs in the home or by someone the child knows and trusts. The child senses that the abuse is wrong but may feel trapped by the affection he/she feels for the abuser or fearful of the power the abuser has over him/her, so he/she doesn’t tell.
In school, abused and neglected children exhibit inappropriate behavior in peer and adult relationships, poor initiative, poor language skills, and other developmental delays. Victims of childhood abuse and neglect are at increased risk for alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, eating disorders, suicide, and sexual promiscuity. These children are more likely to be arrested as juveniles and more likely to be arrested for violent crime. More than three-fourths of the prison population suffered abuse as children. Abuse victims are 6 times more likely to abuse their own children.
Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control, the estimated annual cost of child abuse and neglect is approximately $124 billion. Although the economic costs associated with child abuse and neglect are substantial, it is essential to recognize that it is impossible to calculate the impact of the pain, suffering, and reduced quality of life that victims of child abuse and neglect experience. These “intangible losses”, though difficult to quantify in monetary terms, are real and should not be overlooked. Intangible losses, in fact, may represent the largest cost component of violence against children
Child abuse is against the law. Every child has the right to be loved and protected in a safe and healthy environment; and keeping children safe is everybody’s business. Child protective agencies cannot do it alone. As concerned relatives, friends, acquaintances, and neighbors, there are many things we can do to help prevent child abuse and neglect before it ever occurs:
Be a friend to struggling parents. Ask how their children are doing. Draw on your own experiences to provide reassurance and support. Offer to baby-sit, run errands, or just lend a friendly ear to listen. Show you understand. Give them your used clothing, furniture and toys. This can help relieve the stress of financial burdens that parents sometimes take out on their kids.
Be aware of characteristics of families in which abuse may be more likely to occur: families who are isolated and have few friends, relatives, or other support systems; parents who tell you they were abused as children; families in crisis or under a lot of stress (money problems, move often); parents who abuse alcohol or drugs; parents who are very critical of their child and who use rigid discipline; and parents who show too much or too little concern for their child.
Make a donation to an organization that works to prevent child abuse. You can donate money, clothing, food, or toys.
Recognize the warning signs of child abuse. These may include nervousness or fear around adults; aggression toward adults or other children; inability to stay awake or to concentrate for extended periods; sudden, dramatic changes in personality or activities; acting out sexually or showing interest in sex that is not age appropriate; frequent or unexplained bruises or injuries; low self-esteem; poor hygiene; intense anger or rage; being self-destructive, self-abusive, or suicidal; and/or feeling sad, passive, or withdrawn.
If you suspect abuse, it is your responsibility to report it by calling the Department of Family and Children’s Services and giving them the name and location of the child. If necessary, your report will be confidential. If you believe a child is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
If you think you are in danger of abusing your own children, there are some simple things you can do. Put your hands behind your back, take 10 deep breaths, remove yourself from the room, or call a friend or relative. You should also join a parent support group, get counseling, and/or take an anger management class.
We cannot allow our children to continue to be trapped in a horrendous situation that maims physically and causes deep and profound emotional scarring that is virtually impossible to completely overcome. We MUST make child abuse prevention a priority. Please do your part to help turn the tide on this insidious epidemic.