Preventing Child Abuse (page 3)
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.
The warning signs of abuse
While all active children scrape knees, bruise elbows, and bump shins while playing, other injuries are less common. Bruises or cuts on the stomach, cheek, thigh, or bottom should be a cause for concern, as should black eyes, cigarette burn marks, and human bite marks. These do not usually come from playground falls. The easiest warning signs of abuse are physical. However, some warning signs are subtler than uncommon bruises. Be on the lookout for any of these signs. Once you notice one, you may start noticing others.
Warning signs of physical abuse
Physical signs include:
- Bruises on the face, lips, mouth, stomach, thighs, bottom, back; bruises may be in the shape of an object used to inflict the injury
- Burns from cigarettes, lighters, hot water, irons, or ropes
- Any bone fracture in a child under two
- Bald patches on the head interspersed with normal hair
Behavioral changes include:
- Seeming sad and crying a lot
- Being afraid of a particular person, parent, or place—perhaps even afraid of going home
- Having nightmares
Warning signs of sexual abuse
Physical signs include
- Anal or genital redness, pain or bleeding
- Unusual discharge from the anus or vagina
- The appearance of an STD
- Frequent urinary tract infections in girls
- Torn or stained underclothing
- Constipation or refusal to have a bowel movement
- Difficulty walking or sitting
Behavioral signs include:
- A noticeable new fear of a person, parent, or a place
- Excessive fearfulness in general (of darkness, going outside, strangers etc.)
- Questions about sex that are beyond the child’s age and understanding
- Abrupt behavioral changes, such as bedwetting and loss of bowel control
Warning signs of emotional abuse
Signs of emotional abuse:
- Taking a long time to overcome bedwetting
- Having difficulty learning
- Being hyperactive
- Seeming gloomy and depressed
Warning signs of neglect
Warning signs of neglect include:
- Poor hygiene
- Inappropriate or tattered clothing
- Lack of supervision over extended periods of time
- Being underweight or considerably behind in physical development
Ways to prevent child abuse
Talk to your child
Talking to your child about child abuse is one of the easiest ways to prevent your child from becoming a victim. While you cannot discuss such a topic with young children, you can teach your child the correct names for body parts, and which parts are “private.” Teach your child that no one has the right to harm him, and remind him to stay away from strangers.
Listen to your child
Take the time to listen to what your child is saying. Is she happy? Does she feel safe? Is there something bothering her that she may not be saying? Your child may be dropping hints that you need to recognize. By talking and listening to your child every day, as she grows older, she will know that she can confide in you.
Know where your child is
While you cannot keep an eye on your child at all times, you can know where he is and who is with at all times.
Choose the right child care
It is hard to leave your child in someone else’s care, but there are ways to make sure that your child will be safe and loved while you are gone. Choosing a child care provider—whether it is a day care center, a baby-sitter, or a friend or relative—is an arduous task, and one that should not be taken lightly. Visit several different types of facilities, and visit each place more than once. Go with your gut feeling. If you don’t feel good about the place, there is probably a reason. Do the kids look happy? Are there lots of appropriate playthings and safe spaces to run around? What is the background of the teacher? Are other parents happy with the facility? Here is a brief checklist to help you make your decision:
Child care checklist
- When you visit, is your first impression a good one? Does it look like a clean, safe, and comfortable environment for your child?
- Do the kids playing sound like they are having fun?
- Do the teachers enjoy being with the kids?
- Do the teachers treat the children appropriately?
- Do you approve of the facility’s use of discipline, and do you agree with their rules for the children?
- Are there enough teachers for the number of children? Will your child have enough individual attention?
- What is the group size?
- Are you encouraged to visit, and will they keep you informed about your child?
- Does the staff meet the needs of the children quickly?
- What is the background of your child’s teacher? Does the teacher have a fair amount of child care experience?
- Are there plenty of safe and age-appropriate toys for your child to play with? Are there books to read with the children?
- Is it a physically safe place for your child?
- Is the facility accredited?
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