April is “Child Abuse Prevention Month.” Public awareness about this problem led to the legislation of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) in 1974. Close on its heels in the ‘80s came a presidential proclamation that made April the annual month of remembrance. If you’re anything like me you’d rather avert your eyes and act like it doesn’t exist. The shame of it and the helplessness surrounding it make it hard to hear. But because child abuse is an adult problem it’s important to look it straight in the eye and call a spade a spade, lest we become complicit in our silence. Let’s start with some stunning statistics:
Clearly child abuse is an epidemic with 3.3 million reports made involving 6 million children (a report can involve multiple kids) in the United States a year. As yaw dropping as these facts are, it’s important to push past the problem to prevention. The Child Welfare Information Gateway offers 6 Factors for prevention. I’ve simplified them in user-friendly form:
Nurturing Attitude. A nurturing attitude that evidences love, acceptance, guidance and protection enables children to feel secure and learn to trust that their needs will be met.
Understanding Child Development. Many cases of child maltreatment are the result of a misunderstanding about how children can developmentally be expected to behave. Therefore those educated in this area can provide a safer environment.
Resiliency. Resiliency is the ability to handle stress and recover from crises.Often adults aren’t aware of how they react to stress, sometime due to their own upbringing. Learning good problem solving skills, navigating change, setting boundaries and processing anger can strengthen self-image which can positively affect parenting.
Social Support. A lack of social support can lead to child maltreatment. Friendship and guidance from other caring adults provide parents with the encouragement necessary to take on the challenge of raising a child. Supportive adults can also model parenting strategies for others who need help.
Basic Resources. Without basic needs like food, housing, clothing, transportation and healthcare it’s difficult to experience safety and security and pass it on to our children. Connecting families with appropriate supports is critical to the well-being of children.
Emotional Competence. Some adults and children have never learned how to express appropriately what they think, feel and need. When this deficit is coupled with developmental issues or other factors it can create problems. Providing help for parents and children to express emotion while at the same time learning to respectfully self-regulate allows for a stronger parent-child bond.
Considering these 6 Factors, create ways that your church/organization and you can become part of the solution to prevent child abuse. If you are not aware of your states mandatory reporting laws, educate yourself (go to www.childwelfare.gov) and others by making a report to a committee that you serve on. To learn about the process of mandated reporting go to www.mandatedreporterca.com.
And if you suspect child abuse, please act and call the 24/7 national abuse hotline (1-800-4-A-CHILD). Anonymously describe the behavior and ask if it rises to the standard of reporting. If it does, ask the God of your understanding for the courage to report. Remember: Child abuse is an adult problem. It’s our responsibility to protect children.
Dr. Beverly Weinhold, LPCC, CMHC, NBCC