Authored by: Denise Pilz, Executive Director
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and as I was preparing to raise awareness through social media, I realized I got a little stuck. Child abuse is so complex that it is difficult to articulate in a Facebook post or a tweet how to help prevent something that has such a profound effect on a child for the rest of their lives. So instead of trying to condense the issue to 280 characters, I wanted to spend more thoughtful time on the topic to facilitate more awareness and understanding of the scope and severity of child abuse.
First, the facts. Each year in the U.S. about 3.2 million child abuse reports are made that involve approximately 6.6 million children total. Four children die each day in the U.S. as a result of abuse or neglect. More than 70% of the children who die as a result of abuse are two years of age or younger. (Source: childhelp.org) These are big numbers, too big to ignore, and these are only the cases that are actually reported. We know that incidents of abuse/neglect go unreported every day because someone did not notice the signs, a child was too afraid to speak up or some individuals did not feel like it was their business to get involved. I am of the opinion that it is ALL of our business to get involved, provide a voice for a child who is too afraid to speak, and to protect the children of our community. The more we protect our children, the stronger we all become as a society because there are moral, social and even financial costs linked to child abuse. Did you know that health care, special education, child welfare and criminal justice expenditures as a result of child abuse cost the U.S. over $120 billion per year? (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). I can only imagine what our nation could do with an extra $120 billion a year to build strong, safe and healthy communities.
The impact and long-term effects of child abuse are complex and individualized to those that experience it. There is all kinds of research about the severity of the impact based on the type of abuse, prevalence, age of the child, etc. But in all that research, the fact remains that a child’s life and perception of the world are changed forever. We have always suspected but now have more evidence to show that the impact of child abuse not only affects a child’s mental health but also their physical health. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention links adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) with a range of long-term health impacts. Visit this link to learn more about the ACE study https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/. In this study it was found that individuals who reported six or more adverse childhood experiences had an average life expectancy two decades shorter than those who reported none and Ischemic heart disease (IHD), Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), liver disease and other health-related quality of life issues are tied to child abuse. And then there are the mental health issues that result from experiencing child abuse. These include, but are not limited to:
- Risk for intimate partner violence
- Suicide attempts
- Alcohol and/or illicit drug abuse
What can we do to help prevent child abuse and improve the outcomes of not only children but adults who have experienced child abuse? There are many things you can do to help prevent abuse/neglect even if you are not a doctor, teacher or social service provider. The first step is to get involved!
- If you suspect a child is being abused/neglected, call your local child protective services agency or the local authorities to make a report of what you have seen or heard.
- If a child discloses to you that they have been physically harmed, were uncomfortable with touch or describe the signs of emotional abuse, LISTEN. Listen and don’t judge, question or try to dismiss what the child may be telling you. Then take action to contact the appropriate professionals who can work with the child regarding their experience and to ensure they are safe.
- Build community partnerships by getting involved with local agencies, business, churches, etc. to develop child abuse prevention strategies in your community.
- If you come into contact with a parent who seems overwhelmed, stressed or is expressing they are having difficulty with their child, help them find local resources that will address their needs. Most parents do not intend to harm their child but the pressures of everyday life, especially for those with limited resources, may take their frustrations out on their child.
- Build awareness through your own organizations such as schools, community groups, social media, etc. by sharing the facts about child abuse so others understand how serious the problem
All of these ideas may seem like small things but if everyone took one small idea and ran with it, the impact would be staggering. The goal is to get to a point of “prevention” instead of reacting to the signs of abuse that may have already occurred and caused lifelong damage.
Norris serves youth who have experienced abuse and/or neglect so we are tasked to help these youth cope with not only what has happened to them, but to also build their resilience to move past the impact of the abuse and lead productive and fulfilling lives. At times it feels like an uphill battle but as we learn more about how children react to, internalize or externalize abuse, we become more trauma informed and compassionate in our approach and we learn more about how to prevent the abuse in the future. It is this kind of approach that sets the course for healing and can break the cycle of abuse that plagues so many families.
If you are interested in learning more about how to prevent child abuse or want to help those that have experienced abuse, please contact Norris and we can steer you in the right direction. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead