Thursday, Apr 21, 2022
April is Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month and throughout the month, CASA for Children has been sharing information and resources about raising awareness of child abuse and neglect and the need for more prevention across our communities to keep children safe and at home.
The most important thing to understand about child abuse and neglect is that it can be prevented. Child abuse prevention requires strong communities willing to provide families with the resources they need to thrive. Imagine a world without child abuse and neglect. What can we do to make that dream a reality?
There is not a single, clear answer to this question, but working together as a community we can identify services already in place to help strengthen families and prevent their entry into the child welfare system. In this article we will take a closer look at child abuse and neglect and the ways that we can work together to prevent it.
What is child abuse?
Child abuse (or child maltreatment) is the physical, sexual, or physiological maltreatment or neglect of a child, especially by a caregiver. Child abuse can include any act - or failure to act - by a parent or caregiver that results in actual or potential harm to a child.
Physical Abuse: A non accidental physical injury to a child caused by a parent, caregiver, or other person responsible for a child. Physical abuse occurs when a child's body is injured as a result of hitting, kicking, shaking, burning, or any other show of force.
Sexual Abuse: Any sexual activity that a child cannot understand or consent to.
Child Neglect: The failure of a parent or other caregiver to provide for a child's basic needs including their physical, medical, educational, and emotional needs.
What is Prevention?
Simply put, prevention is the act of stopping something from happening. When talking about child abuse, the word prevention is used to describe an intervention within a family with the goal of ensuring a safe environment for the children within the household and preventing the children from entering into the child welfare system.
In order to be successful, prevention services must reduce the risk factors for child abuse and neglect and promote the protective factors that can help decrease the likelihood of abuse and neglect. Focusing on these factors helps to ensure that the well-being of children and families are protected.
Why do child abuse and neglect occur?
While there is no clear or simple reason or cause of child abuse and neglect, there are a variety of risk factors that have been shown to increase the likelihood that it can occur. These risk factors can include parental depression, substance abuse disorder, poverty, parental history of childhood abuse or neglect, and domestic violence. Preventing these risk factors and supporting families who experience them is at the heart of child abuse prevention.
How do we work together to prevent child abuse?
By helping families during difficult times we can help to decrease the likelihood that child abuse and neglect will occur. Here are five key areas of focus that can help.
1. Financial Security: Severe and persistent stress can overload our ability to manage our emotions. Reducing a family's economic burdens can help to alleviate that stress and decrease the likelihood that a family will encounter the child welfare system. Directing families in need to local resources like food banks, utility assistance companies, and low income housing complexes can help reduce their financial burden.
2. Parent Education: A major determining factor in a child's healthy development is how they are cared for at a young age. Enhancing parenting skills can help to promote healthy child development. These parenting skills can be developed through interventions like home visiting, parenting classes, and family engagement. Research shows that parents and caregivers who have support - from family, friends, neighbors, and their communities - are more likely to provide safe and healthy homes for their children.
3. Social Norms: Norms about how we discipline our children are especially important to child abuse prevention. While corporal punishment is not necessarily child abuse, it can lead to physical abuse when the parent loses control or goes too far. Changing these social norms through public engagement campaigns and legislative approaches can help to reduce the instances of child abuse and neglect in our communities.
4. Early Childhood Education: Quality early childhood education reduces parental stress, exposes children to mandatory reporters, and reduces the time spent in a potentially abusive or neglectful home.
5. Intervention: Intervention is the most hands-on approach to child abuse prevention. Having timely access to care, support, and treatment is critical for children and families. Trauma-informed services such as therapy, rehab, and counseling seek to limit the damage caused by prior maltreatment and can prevent further abuse and neglect from occurring.
How can I help?
There are many ways that community members can get involved to help prevent child abuse and neglect. Let's talk about
1. Education and Awareness: The easiest and most effective way to help prevent child abuse is to talk about it. Post about it on your social media. Have conversations with your loved ones, friends, and co-workers. Talk with local organizations like clubs, schools, and faith communities and ask for them to sponsor healthy parent education courses and foster family support programs.
2. Support Families You Know: Get involved with other parents in your community. Start a playgroup. Lend a hand with household cleaning or childcare when you can. Donate items like clothes, diapers, and toys. Provide a listening ear and support to new parents. You might think that these little acts won't make a difference, but they can make a huge positive impact for a family that is struggling.
3. Support Prevention Programs: Too often, intervention occurs only after abuse is reported. Encourage leaders in the community to be supportive of children and families. Ask employers to provide family-friendly work environments. Ask your local and national lawmakers to support legislation to better protect our children and improve their lives.
4. Teach Children Their Rights: When children are taught they are special and have the right to be safe, they are less likely to think abuse is their fault, and more likely to report an offender.
5. Know The Signs: Unexplained injuries aren't the only signs of abuse. Depression, fear, difficulty trusting others, sudden changes in eating or sleeping patterns, inappropriate sexual behavior, poor hygiene, secrecy, and anger are often signs of family problems and may indicate a child is being neglected or physically, sexually, or emotionally abused. Knowing these signs can help you to take action more quickly and provide early intervention to families.
6. Report Abuse: If you witness a child being harmed or see evidence of abuse, make a report. You can report abuse by calling the Oklahoma Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-522-3511.
7. Volunteer Your Time: Become a CASA volunteer and advocate directly for a child in foster care and their family. CASA volunteers get to know the child and adults involved in the child's life, such as parents and other family members, foster parents, therapists, caseworkers and teachers, in order to develop a realistic picture of the child's unique situation. CASA volunteers make recommendations to the court with the goal of helping the child reunify with their parents whenever safe and possible. By giving these children and families a better chance at a happy future, they help break the cycle for future generations. Visit www.casaok.org for more information.
These are just a few of the ways you can make a difference and help prevent child abuse and neglect in your community. With your help, we can create a better, safer world where all children and families can thrive and every child knows that they are safe and loved. We are ALWAYS better together!