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 Resources and Evaluation (CARE) team provides medical and forensic evaluations for victims.
What is abuse and neglect?
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.
What kids need to know about abuse and neglect
- 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 needless childhood malady, visit www.helpandhope.org.
Signs of sexual and physical abuse
Child abuse and neglect is more common than most people imagine. Victims of sexual and physical abuse may be girls or boys of any age. Abuse occurs in all types of families. Recent statistics indicate that one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Abuse can be devastating for young victims, but they often show no obvious physical signs of the abuse. Some behavioral and emotional responses are common among the victims of sexual and physical abuse. Parents should remember that not all children who demonstrate these behaviors have been abused.
Common symptoms of sexual abuse*
- 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.
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.
What do I do if I suspect a child is the victim of abuse or neglect?
If you suspect that a child is the victim of abuse and neglect, contact your local police department. You can also call the Texas Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400, or file a report at www.TxAbuseHotline.org. If it is an emergency, please dial 911 for assistance.
Community prevention efforts
In addition to the efforts of the CARE 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 professional education, nurturing protective factors and mitigating the effects of traumatic events.