Preventing Child Abuse
While child abuse is an uncomfortable topic, it is one that cannot be ignored. Over one million children are abused every year in the United States—and this number includes only the reported cases. We know that at least one in five girls and one in ten boys suffer from some form of sexual abuse before they turn 18. In 80% of these cases, the abuser is someone the child knows and trusts. Child abuse is preventable and stoppable. It is also against the law and must be reported. While the number of cases being reported is increasing, there are still many who remain silent.
The first step in preventing child abuse is talking to your child about it. The more comfortable your child is with the subject, the less likely she will be to allow it or stay quiet if it happens.
The next step is to empower your child. Teach her to trust her feelings, say NO, get away, and to tell and keep telling until someone believes her. Teach her not to be afraid to tell you if something happens, and that you will believe her.
The third step is to report any cases of child abuse you know. You do not need proof, only reasonable suspicion of abuse to report. But first, educate yourself. The more you know about child abuse, the more power you have to prevent it.
Please select a topic to learn more:
The major forms of child abuse
Physical abuse consists of any non-accidental injury to a child, including hitting, shaking, kicking, throwing, paddling, or otherwise harming a child. The harm does not have to be intended to be considered abuse. If a spank or slap leaves a mark that lasts more than 24 hours, that too, is considered abuse.
Name-calling, shaming, yelling, screaming, belittling, and rejecting affection are all types of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can be defined as any attitude, action, or inaction that interferes with a child’s mental, emotional, behavioral, or social well-being. Emotional abuse is one of the most common forms of abuse. If continued over time, it can have enormous and detrimental effects on a child’s self-esteem and feeling of self-worth. It can affect the child’s happiness for the rest of his life.
Sexual abuse consists of any sexual act between an adult or older child and a younger child. This can involve fondling, intercourse, oral sex, exploitation, exhibitionism, pornography, or the forced observation of a sexual act. The abuser may use bribery, threats, or tricks to take advantage of the younger child.
More children suffer from neglect than any other type of maltreatment. There are many types of neglect. Physical neglect is any failure to provide for a child’s basic physical needs, such as inappropriate shelter, expulsion from home, lack of food, denial of medical care, insufficient hygiene, or inadequate supervision. Educational neglect consists of the failure to enroll a child of school age in school, allowing a child to miss school frequently, or not addressing a special education need. Emotional neglect includes inattention to a child’s need for affection, lack of appropriate physical affection, ignoring, failure or refusal to provide needed psychological care, lack of praise and positive reinforcement, and permission of drug and alcohol use by the child.
The assessment of neglect takes into consideration poverty and cultural values that may contribute to such conditions, but no one has the right to intentionally harm or neglect a child.
Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS)
Shaken Baby Syndrome causes more deaths than any other type of child abuse in the United States. SBS has been seen in children up to the age of four, but most children affected are under one year old. The syndrome results when a baby is shaken vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Since babies’ muscles are not yet developed, the head rotates and the brain moves in the skull, tearing tissue and striking against the bone. This can cause severe brain damage or even death. The babies that survive often suffer from partial or total blindness, hearing loss, seizures, developmental delays, learning difficulties, and paralysis. Other symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, decreased appetite, inability to lift the head, and poor eye focusing skills.
SBS is 100% preventable. While bouncing a child softly on a knee or in your arms will do no damage, you should NEVER shake a baby. Sometimes it is hard to care for babies when they are crying and fussy, and if you feel you are losing patience, ask someone for help. More tips for dealing with crying babies include:
- Fill all of her basic needs. Is she hungry? Dirty? Tired? Too hot? Uncomfortable?
- Check for signs of illness, such as a fever, chills, or swollen gums.
- Rock or walk your baby. Take him on a stroller ride.
- Sing or talk to your baby.
- Play soothing music.
- Give your baby a pacifier or a toy to play with.
- Wrap your baby in a blanket.
- Hold your baby close to your chest and breathe calmly and slowly.
- Have a friend or relative help you out.
- If nothing works, place your baby on her back in her crib, and check on her in ten minutes.
For more information on Shaken Baby Syndrome, visit Shaken Baby/Shaken Impact Syndrome from KidsHealth, the Nemours Foundation.
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