Preventing child abuse can be difficult, especially since we often feel helpless against widespread abuse. So we created this one-stop guide to promote child abuse prevention by compiling a complete list of resources as an information gateway. We have included tips to educate adults around children, information about the different causes and forms of abuse, and how to respond when you suspect child maltreatment.
I was abused as a child but was able to rise above my troublesome past to become a functioning adult. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to overcome a painful childhood, and as a result of their abuse, many children grow into insecure, dysfunctional adults. As a father of two small children, I wanted to make sure to end the cycle of abuse. I know the importance of teaching my children how to protect themselves by educating them on what is okay, and what is not okay.
There are no easy answers, but hopefully, this guide can help you spot child abuse, such as the shaken baby syndrome, or spot children that have been neglected, provide information about prevention programs, and learn the steps to report the abuse to child welfare services.
Index for Quick Jump
Child abuse and neglect of children are epidemics. The United States has more cases of child abuse than virtually any other industrialized nation. In 2015 reports of child abuse involved a whopping 7.2 million children. Many abused children live in single-parent households, whose parents are teenagers and high-school dropouts, or with a divorced parent who has sole custody.
The statistics for 2015 are stark and shocking.
But that’s just part of the story. Child abuse touches every socioeconomic and educational level and is found in every religion and ethnic group. The effects of child abuse are staggering. Abused and neglected children are much more likely to develop depression and anxiety and to experience poverty, mental illness, imprisonment, and addictions.
The appalling child abuse statistics below reveal that infants under a year are most impacted. If you are a parent, you know the challenges of having a fussy, sleepless baby thrust in your arms. The parent can feel frustrated and alone and can wind up shaking or hitting their infant. Horrifically in 2015, there were 1,585 senseless deaths of helpless infants.
Is there an answer? Surprisingly, one solution is marriage, which offers the most protection for children. Children of single mothers are more likely to suffer child abuse or neglect and seek foster care, than children of married women.
Quite often, abusive parents have abused themselves, and as a result, are crippled emotionally. They are unable to nurture and love their children appropriately, and lash out in frustration from pent-up anger when their child won’t stop crying or won’t behave.
The four main types of abuse are:
Emotional abuse is one of the most damaging, but rarely-understood forms of abuse, and is especially devastating for children; some studies show that the long-term effects of psychological abuse are far more damaging than physical abuse. Often these parents unknowingly damage their children by being hyper-critical, ridiculing them, or bullying them. Parents get frustrated and scream or threaten physical punishment.
Latest statistics show that:
Some parents are wrapped up in their own problems, have an addiction, or are so self-absorbed, they virtually ignore their children. Parental drug abuse leads to children feeling unloved or unwanted and can result in self-condemnation and an extremely poor self-image.
Here is why children need lots of attention, both physical and emotional. When affection and warm nurturing are withheld, and the children are neglected, they become hurt and angry and grow up with feelings of insecurity and abandonment. Educational and preventive programs for new parents can be extremely beneficial in promoting positive parenting and helping with child abuse prevention.
According to reports:
But that’s just part of the story. Sexual abuse is by far the most damaging and hardest to face. Children are most often assaulted by someone the child knows and trusts, such as a parent or uncle, or by a coach, teacher or babysitter. And unfortunately, most people simply can’t or won’t acknowledge the huge numbers of children that have been abused.
These experiences can leave a child with feelings of guilt and shame, and they feel they must have caused the abuse. This negative self-image can lead to self-hatred. At times, it can also hinder proper child development.
Simply stated, physical abuse is defined as injuries resulting from hitting, beating, biting, kicking, or anything that harms a child’s body. Parents become abusive when they let their anger dominate while disciplining their children. Some forms of physical abuse are:
My experience is that parents who are impulsive, with anger issues, are more likely to slap their child, or beat them. One way to stop abuse is for parents, when they reach the breaking point, to take a time out and take a walk around the block, or just take a few minutes to breathe and relax.
Hands down, the number one cause of abuse is parental stress and poor coping skills. Many parents face enormous pressure by raising their children alone. Tragically, one common source of frustration for parents that lead to abuse is teaching their children how to use the bathroom. It can take a child a long time to catch on to potty training, causing the parents to become impatient and angry.
And, as if that’s not enough, poverty causes financial stress and aggravates marital problems; the number of abused children is higher for those on government assistance. More than two-thirds of single mothers are on welfare, so addressing financial problems is important to minimize abuse.
Other types of abuse recognized by some states include child abandonment and trafficking. Certain risk factors that have been strongly linked with maltreatment include substance abuse and religious or cultural practices and beliefs.
No doubt about it, we can only stop child abuse by teaching parents coping methods and positive parenting skills. We must have children and family resources and preventive programs available, and every parent must develop their own effective style of parenting. When they are frustrated and overwhelmed, parents need to learn to take a deep breath and do whatever they can to step away and calm down.
There are many different ways to recognize child abuse, but it is essential to be extremely cautious before making an accusation. False accusations can be quite damaging. Unless you have a personal relationship with a family, signs can be misread. Unless there is clear evidence that a child is in physical danger, talk to other neighbors or teachers for assistance in assessing the situation. Express concern to the parents if possible.
Many abused or neglected children are too young to know right from wrong and are unable to put into words their horror stories. If the abuser is a parent, the impulse for the child may be to protect their parents and hide the abuse. Many signs of abuse are quite subtle and can take a trained eye to catch. Some even avoid social interaction just to hide what they’re going through. If you suspect your spouse may be abusing your child, be sure and seek out counsel with a child custody lawyer.
An important way to keep children safe and prevent child abuse is to let them know what is appropriate and what is inappropriate behavior. We don’t want to scare our kids, but we have to teach them to be able to say no when someone in authority is stepping over the line. Children need to be warned if someone, especially those in authority, try to bribe or intimidate them to keep quiet.
What does this mean to you? Books are excellent children and family resources and helpful for teaching children, such as “Your Body Belongs To You”, by Cornelia Spelman. It explains that they should never be touched in their “private parts”. You should teach your child the well-known rules to never go with a stranger; however, most sexual abuse cases happen with a family member or friend, so children must be able to recognize the difference between affection, rough play, and abuse.
The internet can be a huge danger zone from predators, so closely monitor your children’s internet access and activity. Tell children to go with their gut feeling. If it feels wrong, it is wrong.
We want to keep children informed and knowledgeable, howeverm we desperately want to provide child protection. Concerned adults can help ensure a safe treatment and healthy childhood for all children.
Communication is critical for a child’s welfare. Here are some important ways to empower children:
Be attentive around children and be aware of any signs of abuse. If you see a red flag, act on that concern.
Things you can do:
Don’t just sit on your hands! Parents need to teach children safety skills and empower them with the tools and knowledge to develop into independent individuals, with strong boundaries. The challenge will be to give them life’s lessons of respect, honesty, and good judgment.
And we don’t stop there. You can mentor young people in a variety of ways, through involvement in church, child care centers, resource center, and scouting programs in your own family and neighborhood. You can make a stunning difference in the lives of these children.
Abuse creates mental health issues and turbulence in children’s lives. Too often they resort to using drugs, or engaging in sex, or most disturbing, committing suicide. And also often, the key to preventing abuse is the love and care provided by you, their parent. It can be truly rewarding to break the cycle and positively impact a young person’s life.
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