April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month — an initiative of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services that recognizes the importance of communities working together to prevent child abuse and promote the well-being of children and families.
Child abuse is a more prevalent issue than many realize; according to the Department of Health & Human Services, child protective services (CPS) agencies throughout the United States receive more than 50,000 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect each week. On average, 2,475 children were found to be victims of child abuse each day in the year 2001 alone. And tragically, on average, three children die every day as a result of child abuse or neglect.
These numbers are unacceptable — and there are steps we can all take to change them.
Here are five things everyone can do this Child Abuse Prevention Month and throughout the year to prevent more children from becoming victims of child abuse and neglect:
1. Know the signs of abuse.
Always be on the lookout for warning signs that a child is being abused or neglected. Some possible indicators of abuse include:
- Sudden changes in personality
- Aggressive or hostile behavior
- Inappropriate sexual behavior
- Frequent or unexplained cuts, bruises or injuries
- Low self-esteem or signs of depression
- Nervousness or mistrust of adults
- Poor personal hygiene
Remember that there are several different types of abuse and neglect, and the warning signs may be different for each. Any time you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, report it immediately to your local CPS agency or police department — and keep making reports until something is done.
2. Talk to your children.
Every parent should work on building a strong foundation of open and honest communication with their child. Make sure your children know that they can always come to you about anything that bothers or confuses them. Teach them about the differences between appropriate and inappropriate touching. Encourage them to talk to you about anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe — even if another child or adult told them it was supposed to be a “secret.” If your child says something that you find odd or alarming, don’t ignore it; follow up and ask questions.
Also ask your children about the other adults in their lives, including teachers and coaches. Look for any warning signs of “grooming” behavior in the adults they interact with, and trust your instincts. If you’re not comfortable leaving your child with someone, don’t do it.
3. Get involved in your community.
Anything you can do to offer support and resources to the families in your community can help prevent child abuse. Focus on building a positive, nurturing community with a culture that encourages neighbors to get to know and help one another.
Here are some ideas to help you develop a stronger community that supports families:
- Reach out to your neighbors: Get to know other families in your community, and lend a helping hand where you can — whether it’s offering to babysit, donating old clothes and toys to parents with younger children or simply suggesting local resources for new and overwhelmed parents.
- Get involved at your child’s school: Attend a parent’s meeting or volunteer in your child’s classroom. Get to know your child’s teachers, classmates and their parents.
- Organize community events: Set up a playgroup with your neighbors, coordinate a parent support group, or start a club or team (like a neighborhood sports league or scouts troop) that involves parents and children.
4. Support child abuse prevention programs and organizations.
If you are passionate about making a difference in the lives of children and families, consider getting involved with an organization or program that aids in the prevention of child abuse. Some organizations to check out include:
- Prevent Child Abuse America
- Child Abuse Prevention Association
- National Children’s Alliance
- Stop It Now
5. Spread the word.
Help raise awareness about child abuse and neglect in your community. Teach others about the warning signs and how to report suspected cases of abuse and neglect, and let them know how they can get involved in abuse prevention programs and efforts. The Children’s Bureau also offers outreach materials to make spreading the word as convenient as possible.
The more people who are aware of the prevalence and impact of child abuse, the better chance we have of preventing it from happening.