Would you know if a child was being abused in your world?
Let’s say you had a bad feeling about the well-being of a child that would not go away, would you know what to say, or do? Knowing that child abuse affects millions of American children every year, Family HealthCare Associates wants to take this time during “National Child Abuse Prevention Month” to encourage all of the adults in our network to watch out for signs of child abuse.
Child abuse can take many forms: from physical abuse to sexual abuse, emotional abuse to severe neglect. While there are some gray areas when determining whether a child is being harmed, children are rarely victimized by strangers. Nearly 90% of victims know their abuser—whether it’s a relative, coach, neighbor or teacher. Knowing that an abused child may be reluctant to tell anyone about it—it’s important to watch out for these warning signs:
- Changes in school performance and frequent absences
- Withdrawal from friends or activities
- Stark changes in behavior like hostility, rebellion, or hyperactivity
- Sudden loss of self-confidence
- Experiences depression, anxiety, or has unusual fears
- Has an apparent lack of supervision at home
- Shows a reluctance to leave school activities for fear of going home
- Attempts running away, self-harm, or suicide
Remember, warning signs don’t necessarily mean that a child is being abused, but watch out for obvious signs of physical abuse such as bruises or injuries that don’t match up with the explanation given. In addition, look for signs of neglect, such as poor growth, bad hygiene, lack of clothing, or if they’re not receiving the appropriate medical care.
How You Can Help Prevent Child Abuse
When it comes to protecting the children around you from abuse, we suggest you follow these 7 steps to safeguard them from any predators.
- Give them the proper love and attention—Develop trust and communication with them. Encourage your child to tell you if there’s a problem. A supportive family environment will foster your child’s sense of self-worth.
- Find out who’s supervising your child – Volunteer at school and get to know the adults who spend time with them. Encourage your child to stay away from strangers, and to tell you where they are at all times.
- Check references for babysitters and caregivers— Make unannounced visits to observe what’s happening. Don’t allow substitutes for your usual child care if you don’t know the person.
- Tell them it’s okay to say “no”—Make sure your child understands that they don’t have to do anything that seems uncomfortable. Encourage them to leave a threatening situation, and seek help from a trusted adult. Assure your child that it’s OK to talk about it, and that they won’t get in trouble
- Teach your child how to stay safe online—Put their computer in a common area. Use the parental controls to restrict the types of sites your child can visit. Tell your child to tell you if a stranger makes contact through a social networking site. Report inappropriate senders to authorities.
- Get Involved—Meet the families in your neighborhood. Develop a support network. If a neighbor seems to be struggling, offer to help.
- Don’t respond in anger – If you feel overwhelmed with a child, take a break. Don’t take out your anger on them. Talk with a therapist about ways to cope with stress to better interact with the child
What is your Responsibility?
If you’re concerned that your child, or another minor has been abused, contact the child’s doctor, a local child protective agency, police department, or this 24-hour National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-422-4453). If the child needs immediate medical attention, call 911 immediately. Many people will hesitate in calling CPS because they don’t want to get involved, but if you are someone the child trusts and they reveal they are being abused, it is your obligation to report it.
So, if you are suspicious, say something, because child abuse is preventable and treatable, if we all stay diligent and do our part to protect our children.