Lost a grandson to child abuse
April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month, a time to recognize that we each play a part in promoting the social and emotional well-being of children and families in communities.
Prevention is the best hope for reducing child abuse and neglect and improving the lives of children and families. Strengthening families and preventing child abuse requires a shared commitment of individuals and organizations in every community. The following resources discuss the framework for child abuse and neglect prevention, provide information on what to do when children are at risk for abuse or neglect, and link to State, Federal, and national organizations that support prevention initiatives.
The term "prevention" is typically used to represent activities that stop an action or behavior. It can also be used to represent activities that promote a positive action or behavior. Research has found that successful child abuse interventions must both reduce risk factors and promote protective factors to ensure the well-being of children and families.
Protective factors are conditions in families and communities that, when present, increase the health and well-being of children and families. They are attributes that serve as buffers, helping parents who might otherwise be at risk of abusing their children to find resources, supports, or coping strategies that allow them to parent effectively, even under stress.
The impact of child maltreatment can be profound. Research shows that child maltreatment is associated with adverse health and mental health outcomes in children and families, and those negative effects can last a lifetime. In addition to the impact on the child, child abuse and neglect affect various systems - including physical and mental heath, law enforcement, judicial and public social services, and nonprofit agencies as they respond to the incident and support the victims. One analysis of the immediate and long-term economic impact of child abuse and neglect suggests that child maltreatment costs the nation as much as $258 million each day, or approximately $94 billion each year.
Child abuse is more than bruises and broken bones. While physical abuse might be the most visible sign, other types of abuse, such as emotional abuse or child neglect, also leave deep, long lasting scars.
Some signs of child abuse are subtler than others. However, by learning common types of abuse and what you can do, you can make a huge difference in a child's life. The earlier abused children get help, the greater chance they have to heal from their abuse and not perpetuate the cycle.
Learn the signs and symptoms of child abuse and help break the cycle, find out where to get help for the children and their caregivers.
Myths and facts about child abuse and neglect
MYTH #1: It's only abuse if it's violent.
Fact: Physical abuse is just one type of child abuse. Neglect and emotional abuse can be just as damaging, and since they are more subtle, others are less likely to intervene.
MYTH #2: Only bad people abuse their children.
Fact: While it's easy to say that only "bad people" abuse their children, it's not always so black and white. Not all abusers are intentionally harming their children. Many have been victims of abuse themselves, and don't know any other way to parent. Others may be struggling with mental health issues or a substance abuse problem.
MYTH #3: Child abuse doesn't happen in "good" families.
Fact: Child abuse doesn't only happen in poor families or bad neighborhoods. It crosses all racial, economic, and cultural lines. Sometimes, families who seem to have it all from the outside are hiding a different story behind closed doors.
MYTH #4: Most child abusers are strangers.
Fact: While abuse by strangers does happen, most abusers are family members or others close to the family.
MYTH #5: Abused children always grow up to be abusers.
Fact: It is true that abused children are more likely to repeat the cycle as adults, unconsciously repeating what they experienced as children. On the other hand, many adult survivors of child abuse have a strong motivation to protect their children against what they went through and become excellent parents.
Effects of child abuse and neglect
All types of child abuse and neglect leave lasting scars. Some of these scars might be physical, but emotional scarring has long lasting effects throughout life, damaging a child's sense of self, ability to have healthy relationships, and ability to function at home, at work and at school. Some effects include:
Lack of trust and relationship difficulties. If you can't trust your parents, who can you trust? Abuse by a primary caregiver damages the most fundamental relationship as a child-that you will safely, reliably get your physical and emotional needs met by the person who is responsible for your care. Without this base, it is very difficult to learn to trust people or know who is trustworthy. This can lead to difficulty maintaining relationships due to fear of being controlled or abused. It can also lead to unhealthy relationships because the adult doesn't know what a good relationship is.
Core feelings of being "worthless" or "damaged." If you've been told over and over again as a child that you are stupid or no good, it is very difficult to overcome these core feelings. You may experience them as reality. Adults may not strive for more education, or settle for a job that may not pay enough, because they don't believe they can do it or are worth more. Sexual abuse survivors, with the stigma and shame surrounding the abuse, often especially struggle with a feeling of being damaged.
Trouble regulating emotions. Abused children cannot express emotions safely. As a result, the emotions get stuffed down, coming out in unexpected ways. Adult survivors of child abuse can struggle with unexplained anxiety, depression, or anger. They may turn to alcohol or drugs to numb out the painful feelings.
Types of child abuse
There are several types of child abuse, but the core element that ties them together is the emotional effect on the child. Children need predictability, structure, clear boundaries, and the knowledge that their parents are looking out for their safety. Abused children cannot predict how their parents will act. Their world is an unpredictable, frightening place with no rules. Whether the abuse is a slap, a harsh comment, stony silence, or not knowing if there will be dinner on the table tonight, the end result is a child that feel unsafe, uncared for, and alone.
Emotional child abuse
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me? Contrary to this old saying, emotional abuse can severely damage a child's mental health or social development, leaving lifelong psychological scars. Examples of emotional child abuse include:
Constant belittling, shaming, and humiliating a child.
Calling names and making negative comparisons to others.
Telling a child he or she is "no good," "worthless," "bad," or "a mistake."
Frequent yelling, threatening, or bullying.
Ignoring or rejecting a child as punishment, giving him or her the silent treatment.
Limited physical contact with the child-no hugs, kisses, or other signs of affection.
Exposing the child to violence or the abuse of others, whether it be the abuse of a parent, a sibling, or even a pet.
Child neglect-a very common type of child abuse-is a pattern of failing to provide for a child's basic needs, whether it be adequate food, clothing, hygiene, or supervision. Child neglect is not always easy to spot. Sometimes, a parent might become physically or mentally unable to care for a child, such as with a serious injury, untreated depression, or anxiety. Other times, alcohol or drug abuse may seriously impair judgment and the ability to keep a child safe.
Older children might not show outward signs of neglect, becoming used to presenting a competent face to the outside world, and even taking on the role of the parent. But at the end of the day, neglected children are not getting their physical and emotional needs met.
Physical child abuse
Physical abuse involves physical harm or injury to the child. It may be the result of a deliberate attempt to hurt the child, but not always. It can also result from severe discipline, such as using a belt on a child, or physical punishment that is inappropriate to the child's age or physical condition.
Many physically abusive parents and caregivers insist that their actions are simply forms of discipline-ways to make children learn to behave. But there is a big difference between using physical punishment to discipline and physical abuse. The point of disciplining children is to teach them right from wrong, not to make them live in fear.
Responding to child abuse and neglect involves protecting children from harm and supporting families to reduce the risk of future harm to children. Reports from professionals and concerned citizens are received by child protective services (CPS) staff alerting them to concerns about a child's welfare. CPS staff may initiate an investigation to determine if a child has been or is at risk of being harmed. Staff may also assess the child's and family's needs or engage in other interventions to support the family's efforts to provide a safe, nurturing environment for their children. CPS professionals may work with law enforcement, courts, other professionals, and community members to protect children and support families.