Recognizing and preventing child abuse
As parents, our job is to protect our children from harm. It can be hard to imagine anyone hurting a child, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 1 in 7 children in the U.S. experiences some form of abuse or neglect each year. Susan Lamb, MD, explained how to recognize child abuse and provided tips on how to prevent it.
What is child abuse?
Child abuse is when something is done to a child that causes harm or has the potential to cause harm. It comes in different forms and within each form it varies in its severity along a spectrum. Dr. Lamb said there are different types of child abuse, including:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
“Abuse can present itself in different ways. It may look like a bruised arm or it may be the use of words to psychologically harm a child,” said Dr. Lamb.
What is child neglect?
Child neglect occurs when something is withheld from a child that causes harm or has the potential to cause harm to a child. Things that can be withheld from a child that cause harm include:
- Medical care
- Basic physical needs
- Words or actions that promote a child’s psychological development
How do you recognize child abuse?
Dr. Lamb said recognizing child abuse is not difficult, but it requires having a view of the world that is uncomfortable for most individuals. The most important part is believing that child abuse occurs. It occurs in every group of human beings and is not limited. The most frequent abusers of children are family members although it can be anyone.
“You have to understand that it can happen in your neighborhood, school, religious organization and family. Once it is understood that child abuse occurs then paying attention to how children interact with adults, what adults say or post online about their family, what children mention about their home and family, how children are dressed and any injuries on children will make it apparent when abuse occurs,” said Dr. Lamb.
Remember, children and families may think that how they are living is normal and sometimes it takes someone else speaking up to help break the cycles of abuse and neglect.
How can you prevent child abuse?
Preventing child abuse is accomplished in two different, but important ways. First by being involved in every aspect of your child’s life. Dr. Lamb offered these tips for helping you prevent child abuse.
- Know who your child is with and where they are at all times.
- Never allow your child to go with someone you have not met multiple times and trust.
- Never allow your child to go somewhere that you cannot have direct access to them at all times of the day and night.
- Be involved and communicate with your child.
“Fostering a trusting, open relationship with your child is key. Your child needs to know that in your family no one keeps secrets. There is nothing a child should keep from their parents and anyone who asks a child to keep a secret is doing something wrong. Having open and frequent communication with your child keeps them safe,” said Dr. Lamb.
Second, promote healthy families by paying attention to stress on the family and needs of the family. Dr. Lamb said areas that can put stress on families include:
- Unstable housing
- Food insecurity
- Lack of financial resources
- Difficulty accessing medical care
- Lack of mental health resources
- Sparse support system for parents or caregivers
A helpful resource for families for a wide variety of needs is http://scparents.org.
If you need help or suspect that your child or another child has suffered abuse, report it to the Department of Social Services and law enforcement. You can seek medical care for any injuries at an emergency room or pediatrician. “While a pediatrician can help provide guidance, ultimately an agency tasked with the protection of children needs to explore your concerns so that children can grow up safe and healthy,” said Dr. Lamb.
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