Preventing child abuse is everybody’s business
Since this month is national Child Abuse Prevention Month, I thought it wouldn’t be harmful for me to talk about this most serious topic.
More than 1 million infants and children are abused every year in this country physically, sexually or emotionally. Additional sad facts are that children often know their abusers and the abuse usually occurs in the home — making it tough for children to speak up.
All children are at risk
So, who is at risk for abusing a child? Unfortunately, there is no classic description. Abusers come from all walks of life and can include parents, other family members, family friends, teachers or coaches. Often, the abuser was abused during their childhood. While anyone with access to a child can mistreat a child, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of people don’t.
Signs that raise suspicion
How can you suspect abuse? Certainly, bruises that keep occurring or keep coming back can be a sign, as can recurrent abdominal pain or headaches with no clear cause. There can be emotional signs too, such as when a child becomes withdrawn, fearful, sad or develops low self-esteem, acts out in class, drops their grades, or starts to bully others because they are being bullied by adults themselves. While these signs might mean other things, you need to at least consider abuse as a possibility.
When to take action
If you suspect a child you know is being abused, you need to take action to further protect that child. Anyone can and should call the Department for Children and Families in Vermont or Child Protective Services in New York and report your concerns — doing so can be lifesaving. If you are a child who is being physically or emotionally hurt or harmed, or worried that you will be, talk to someone you trust, whether that is a parent, relative, teacher or family friend.
If you feel so stressed as a caregiver that you may want to hurt your child, place your child with a friend or relative where they’re safe and seek help by calling the national child abuse hotline whose phone number is 1-800-4-A-CHILD.
The earlier abuse can be suspected and stopped, the better the outcome.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.