Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention
Child abuse and neglect include all forms of physical and emotional harm, sexual abuse, neglect, and exploitation that results in actual or potential harm to the child's health, development or dignity. Within this broad definition, five subtypes can be distinguished – physical abuse; sexual abuse; neglect and negligent treatment; emotional abuse; and exploitation.
The Cook Children's Child Advocacy Resource and Evaluation (C.A.R.E.) team provides medical and forensic evaluations for victims.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month
One moment can impact a lifetime. We understand that parenting is hard, even in the best of times. Living in a pandemic makes it harder. But it’s important to remember that abuse can have lasting effects on a child. It can impact their physical or mental health, or change their behavior.
It takes repetition to form a new habit. Do these things often:
- Give your child praise and hugs. Say "I love you" often.
- Set simple rules and consequences. Always follow through.
- Discipline fairly and with love. Never use violence or put-downs.
- Always show respect for your child’s thoughts and feelings.
- Keep your sense of humor and manage stress in healthy ways. If you feel overwhelmed, arrange for outside help. Get tips for stress management here.
Abuse and neglect can occur outside the home, sometimes in places we like to think of as "safe," and can include peer groups (bullying, date rape, hazing, etc.). Abuse and neglect can also begin with a stranger who befriends kids and leads them into human trafficking with promises of glamour, money, material goods ... and love. But abuse can – and most often does – happen in the home or within the family. Knowing what constitutes abuse and neglect is the first step toward stopping it. Abuse and neglect of a child includes:
- Sexual abuse – inappropriate touching, indecent exposure, and exploitation, including human trafficking
- Physical abuse – punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, or threatening with any type of weapon
- Neglect – malnourishment, dirty clothing and living quarters, child left alone for long periods of time, frequent absences and tardiness at school
- Emotional abuse – extreme punishment such as being locked in a room or closet or denied food or water, name calling, belittling, blaming, withholding love
- Drug exposure – prenatal exposure to drug abuse and children exposed to drugs and alcohol abuse by parents, including illegal drug activity in the home which may put a child in harm's way.
- Medical child abuse – often referred to as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy – a caregiver may cause a child to become ill just to gain attention. The result is needless medical intervention and treatment and risky actions by the caregiver which can cause great harm and risk to the child's health and life.
Statistics indicate that one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. The majority of sexual abuse victims know their abuser. They can have any relationship to the child including a playmate, family member, a teacher, a coach, a caretaker, youth group leader, or the parent of another child.
Some behavioral and emotional responses are common among victims of sexual abuse. Parents should remember that not all children who demonstrate these behaviors have been abused. Common symptoms of sexual abuse can include:
- Depression – withdrawal, poor motivation, increase in crying, talking about death/dying, suicidal thoughts and/or attempts
- Poor self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness
- Changes in sleep patterns, nightmares, bedwetting
- Regression – loss of bowel and bladder control, thumb sucking, renewed need for a security blanket, clingy behavior
- Unusual fears of people and places
- Acting out sexually
- Eating disorders or feeding difficulties
- Changes in school performance, loss of concentration, distraction
- Substance abuse
- Frequent medical complaints, such as nausea, headaches
- Excessive masturbation
*List adapted from material by Suzanne Sgroi, M.D., a leading researcher in the area of child sexual abuse.
"Stewards of Children® online training for caregivers to prevent child sexual abuse"
- Educate them about their bodies. Teach them about which parts are private. Help them to understand the difference between touches that are okay and those that aren't. Let them know that it's okay to tell if someone tries to touch or hurt them, that it's okay not to keep a secret that makes them feel bad or scared.
- Teach them when to say, "no." We want our children to be respectful of others, and we want them to respect themselves. Help them understand that it's okay to say no to someone who is trying to get them to do something uncomfortable.
- Create safety rules then discuss and practice them often.
For more in-depth information on child abuse and neglect, how to recognize the signs, and what you can do help bring an end to this issues, visit www.helpandhope.org.
Grooming is a term used for the manipulative behaviors sexual abusers use to gain the trust of their victims. Grooming can include sharing secrets, giving gifts, isolating the child from others, normalizing sexual behavior, and pushing personal boundaries starting with things such as tickling or wrestling with the child.
Though grooming can take many different forms, it often follows a similar pattern.
- Victim selection: Abusers often observe possible victims and select them based on ease of access to them or their perceived vulnerability.
- Gaining access and isolating the victim: Abusers will attempt to physically or emotionally separate a victim from those protecting them and often seek out positions in which they have contact with minors.
- Trust development and keeping secrets: Abusers attempt to gain trust of a potential victim through gifts, attention, sharing "secrets" and other means to make them feel that they have a caring relationship and to train them to keep the relationship secret.
- Desensitization to touch and discussion of sexual topics: Abusers will often start to touch a victim in ways that appear harmless, such as hugging, wrestling and tickling, and later escalate to increasingly more sexual contact, such as massages or showering together. Abusers may also show the victim pornography or discuss sexual topics with them, to introduce the idea of sexual contact.
- Attempt by abusers to make their behavior seem natural, to avoid raising suspicions. For teens, who may be closer in age to the abuser, it can be particularly hard to recognize tactics used in grooming. Be alert for signs that your teen has a relationship with an adult that includes secrecy, undue influence or control, or pushes personal boundaries.
To learn more about grooming, visit RAINN.org
Common symptoms of physical abuse**
- Fearing parents/caretakers
- Reporting injury by parents/caretakers
- Fearing home
- Avoiding eye contact
- Showing wariness of physical contact
- Seeking affection from anyone
- Behaving aggressively
- Settling in quickly in new surroundings
- Showing nervousness or fear when other children cry
- Expecting no comfort or assurance from parents
- Becoming highly aware or overly sensitive to his/her surroundings
- Having difficulty learning.
- Wearing clothes that hide injuries
- Avoiding gym class
- Arriving early to school and leaving late
- Recording poor school attendance
** List adapted from material by Robert Reece, M.D., a national expert in child abuse and neglect.
Community prevention efforts
In addition to the efforts of the C.A.R.E Team to identify victims of abuse and neglect, the Center for Children's Health works within the community to prevent abuse and neglect. This is done through parenting support with the Hood County for Healthy Children coalition and the Wise Coalition for Healthy Children. Additionally, the center is addressing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) through a dedicated team providing professional education, nurturing protective factors and mitigating the effects of traumatic events.