Child maltreatment is disturbing and frightening. Unfortunately, abuse and neglect affect children of all ages, backgrounds, and socio-economic levels. Recognition of the types and signs of abuse, and implementing a preventative program can help reduce the number of children affected.
Types of Child Abuse
Government findings report that 14 percent of US children experience some level of abuse, whether it’s physical, emotional, sexual, or simple neglect.
- Physical Abuse - Physical abuse occurs in many forms, from Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS/AHT) to broken bones. Any show of force against the body of a child is considered physical abuse, including kicking, biting, shaking, burning, and hitting. Not only is physical abuse harmful to the outer child, it is damaging to the psyche, fostering negative self-esteem and depression, perpetuating a cycle of violence from generation to generation.
- Emotional Abuse - Verbal attacks, withholding affection, threatening, and laying blame are just a few of the emotional aspects of child abuse. Any action that promotes self-worthlessness constitutes emotional abuse. As adults, these children may suffer from depression, substance abuse, and other disorders.
- Sexual Abuse - Sexual abuse is defined as engaging a child in sexual activity. It may include direct acts, fondling, inappropriate touching, exposure to sexually explicit materials, and rape. Victims of sexual abuse often become promiscuous in adulthood, and suffer other emotional and physical manifestations of abuse.
- Neglect - Neglect is withholding or failing to provide basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Neglect may also encompass exposing a child to dangerous environments or situations. Victims of neglect often suffer physical and emotional consequences into adulthood.
How to Recognize Child Abuse
Both the adult(s) and child(ren) in an abusive relationship may demonstrate signs indicative of abuse.
Physical abuse in the child is, perhaps, the easiest to ascertain, because in many instances there is visible evidence. Excessive bruising, bruises in various stages of healing, and unexplained or poorly explained broken bones or injuries may indicate abuse. The child may also be wary of adult or authoritative figures.
Emotional Abuse may be more difficult to determine. The possibility of emotional abuse exists when a child is overly compliant or extremely passive, shows signs of delayed physical or emotional development, or demonstrates disassociation from the offending figure.
Victims of sexual abuse may exhibit difficulty walking or standing, and may report recurrent nightmares. Bedwetting is common, as is running away and advanced sexual knowledge relative to age.
Neglected children may appear ill or poorly groomed. They may be inappropriately dressed for the climate, beg or steal food and money, and may abuse alcohol and drugs.
Parents may also demonstrate behavior indicative of abuse such as extreme jealousy or guarding of, indifference toward, constant belittling or blaming of, and/or rejection of the child.
Preventing Child Abuse
Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut solution to the problem of child abuse. However, prevention is key to reducing its prevalence. State, local, and federal agencies have designed programs to identify at-risk families and offer them parenting and community education, support and family strengthening. Family assistance programs counsel family members on management of emotions in a non-threatening, positive way. Agencies strive to improve education and training for employees assigned to home visits, ensuring that no signs of abuse or neglect go un-noticed.
US Government data cites over 3 million cases of child mistreatment, abuse, or neglect investigated in 2006 by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Why would an organization focused on public health have interest in statistics regarding mistreatment of children? Indeed, the victimization of children is very much a public health concern. Look to your community to make a difference. Find your local Crisis Center for resources and support.