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How to Prevent Child Abuse

The unusual stretches of bruises across a young child’s back or the broken bones that appear each year are just some of the signs that alert outsiders that child abuse is taking place. Sadly, a lot of abuse cases go unnoticed and the damage continues to destroy the physical and emotional well being of a child. In the worst cases, death is the result of continuous child abuse. Today, more and more people are encouraging the community responsibility of parents, school officials, and others to follow prevention measures on order to protect the rights of those who are too young or meek to fight.

How to Prevent Child Abuse

What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse is the physical, sexual, and/or emotional mistreatment or neglect that a child may receive from parents, guardians, or others entrusted with their care [1]. Child abuse is not confined to the home front and may also manifest outside of the home in church-, school-, and day care settings. Additionally, random murders and kidnappings also utilize child abuse as a form of punishment or torture.

Child abuse involves someone doing something or failing to act on the behalf of the child, where risk of harm or intentional hurt takes place. The abuse may cross physical, sexual, or emotional borders, whereas neglecting the needs of a child (food, clothing, and shelter) is also seen as a form of child abuse [2].

When child abuse is present, usually the emotional aspect of the abuse is viewed as a greater evil than the physical damage. Abused children are often depressed, withdrawn, suicidal, violent, and face many complications as they age. Drug and alcohol abuse, tendencies to runaway, and urges to inflict abuse or pain on others may also follow a child into adulthood.

In the end, investigations are launched into suspicious cases regarding child abuse, where children may face removal from the very environment or circumstances that facilitates their abuse. Criminal charges often follow. Overall, child abuse is seen as a serious problem, which calls for the immediate attention of the police and local child welfare agencies when suspected.

Common Signs of Child Abuse

Recognizing the common signs of child abuse or neglect is vital in preventing the act from continuing to occur. Becoming knowledgeable in the warning signs that parents and other guardians exhibit is a good way to help prevent child abuse before it even takes place.

Below are some of the signals to be on the lookout for:

a) Common Children Alerts:

One may suspect child abuse when a child shows sudden behavioral changes or a decrease in school performance. A teacher may have brought the presence of physical or medical problems to the attention of parents and later realizes that the child has yet to receive help. An abused child may exhibit learning difficulties or find it hard to concentrate. They may appear watchful and seem to prepare themselves for something bad to happen to them.

A child may lack adult supervision, which becomes apparently clear throughout the school year. The child may seem overly obedient, passive, or withdraw from the rest of the class. A child that comes to school or other events early, tends to stay late, and often delays going home might be a sign that there is something in the household that they dread returning back to.

b) Common Parent Alerts:

A parent who seems to show little concern for their child may practice deeper neglect at home. When problems at school or home arise, they may deny their existence or blame the child for everything. Teachers who encounter parents that request harsh physical penalties for misbehaving may indicate undue punishments at home. Parents who constantly describe their children as a burden, call them “worthless,” or view them as “evil” are common alerts that neglect might be present. Parents, who come to school and are constantly disappointed and demand a high level of physical or academic performance that the child has trouble reaching, may serve as an indictor of emotional abuse at home.

c) Parent and Child Interaction:

When children and their parents rarely touch or look at one another, it is a common sign of a strained relationship. If they both view their connection as entirely negative, there is cause for concern. When the parent or the child make statements that they do not like one another, neglect and abuse may occur at home.

d) Signs of Physical Abuse:

This type of abuse is one of the most noticeable and easily recognizable when accompanying factors are presence. One may suspect physical abuse when children exhibit unexplained burns, bites, bruises, black eyes, and broken bones. These visuals may also appear in a faded appearance after a child has missed a few days of school. A child may seem scared of their parents and cries when the thought of going home is mentioned. When adults approach, they may instinctively shrink in fear. Rarely, a child will report injury sustained by the hands of their parent or adult caregiver.

e) Signs of Neglect:

A child may exhibit signs of neglect when they continuously miss a lot of school; begs for money; steals food; lacks proper medical or dental care; is constantly dirty or displays severe body odor; lacks acceptable clothing according to the weather; shows alcohol or drug abuse; or often states that no one is at home to provide them with care.

f) Signs of Sexual Abuse:

Sadly, children are often victims of sexual abuse, where they may showcase trouble walking or sitting; refuses to change for gym for no apparent reason; suffers from nightmares or frequent bed wetting; displays a sudden loss of appetite; shows deep knowledge regarding unusual sexual information or behaviors; or in rare cases – reports sexual abuse. One may also suspect sexual abuse when a child under the age of 14 becomes pregnant or is diagnosed with a venereal disease.

g) Signs of Emotional Abuse [3]:

The maltreatment of a child that affects their emotional well being may appear when children display extremes in behavior; shows intense knowledge on parenting young children (acting too much like an adult for their age); showing inappropriate infantile behavior (may rock back and forth or bang their heads); has contemplated or attempted suicide; or shows a delay in physical or emotional development.Parents guilty of emotional abuse will overtly reject their offspring. They often blame, belittle, or intensely criticize their child in a constant manner. They may also show a lack of concern regarding their child and often reject any attempts made by outsiders to help them with problems.

The Negative Effects of Child Abuse

The negative effects associated with child abuse breeds a wealth of physical, psychological, and behavioral problems that take many years to correct. In the worst cases, a child may never fully recover and harbor deep mistrust and socialization problems that will continue to follow them into adulthood. Depending on their personal circumstances and depth of abuse, they may face mild to severe consequences pertaining to their health and growth as an individual.

The residual effects could affect them in both a short- and long-term manner. Depression, nervousness, guiltiness, fear, sexual dysfunction, withdrawal, and acting out are just some of the things connected to child abuse. In cases of physical or sexual abuse, a common phenomenon is seen with victims, where they are more likely to become the victims of rape or become involved in physically abusive relationships when reaching adulthood [4].

Child Abuse Risk Factors [5]

Since there are many different ways that a child may become abused, child abuse may take place within any household. In many cases, there are certain risk factors that have increased the rate of incidence. Understanding these factors also help people pinpoint the likelihood of child abuse, as well as aid in prevention. Child abuse risk factors include:

a) A Continuous Cycle of Abuse:

Many child abusers were in fact victims of abuse and possess a higher tendency to react in a violent manner to the stresses associated with rearing a child. The inability to cope facilitates childhood memories of the way they were disciplined as a child.

b) Mental Illness:

A common factor that encourages child abuse is seen when individuals suffer from personality disorders or exhibit other forms of severe mental illness.

c) Extreme Amounts of Stress:

When stress is added to the hardships of parenting, unforeseen circumstances may elevate the level of stress that may eventually affect the way a parent interacts with their children. Some of the most common culprits include sickness, divorce, job loss, and traumatic accidents. Sometimes, a child who suffers from a medical condition or a form of autism may indirectly cause an increase of stress in the household that may lead to abuse.

d) Lack of Parenting Skills:

When an individual is not equipped to deal with the rearing of a child, their lack of parenting skills may lead to mistreatment or maltreatment. This is often seen in teenagers who are too young to emotionally and physically cope with the birth of a child.

e) Family Structure:

It is seen that single-parent families are more susceptible to neglecting or abusing their children than a household that has both parents present. On the other hand, both parents at home who display a volatile relationship may affect parenting and cause one or more parents to take their frustrations out on their children.

How to Prevent Child Abuse

When it comes to the prevention of child abuse, members on the professional scene agree there are three levels of prevention services: primary, secondary, and tertiary [6]. Below you will find a variety of child abuse prevention methods to consider:

a) Primary Prevention: It is believed that primary prevention begins at the community level, which may include public education activities, family support programs, and parent education classes where all members of the community may benefit. In regards to this type of prevention method, it is hard to gauge its success as these measures are meant to impact an act that has yet to take place and involves an unknown variable.

b) Secondary Prevention:

When activities and intervention is specifically targeted at families, it is considered a secondary prevention method, which deliberately zeros in on units that display one or more risk factors. These factors may include families with substance abuse problems, teenage parents, parents with special- needs children, single parents, and families with a low income. The prevention services may offer home-visiting programs for new parents or respite care for parents rearing children with a disability.

c) Tertiary Prevention:

This type of prevention method targets families who possess either confirmed or unconfirmed child abuse and neglect reports. Usually, the family has already demonstrated a need for intervention that may or may not involve court supervision.

d) Common Prevention Programs:

Depending on the community or access to outside resources, child abuse prevention programs may involve family resource centers, home visitation programs, parent education programs, parent support group programs, respite and crisis care programs, school-based prevention programs, and sexual abuse prevention programs [7].

e) Child Abuse Prevention Organizations:

There are many private and nonprofit organizations that work to combat child abuse. With a dedication against child abuse prevention and the treatment of victims, toll-free phone numbers and establishments offer services to help young individuals come to a resolution. Popular and well-known organizations include Childhelp USA; International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN); Children of the Underground; and Thursday’s Child hotline (1-800 USA KIDS).

f) Understand the Problem:

It is important to recognize that child abuse and neglect is an issue that affects children of all ages, races, and incomes.

g) Understand the Different Forms:

Child abuse possesses many different faces, where some are more obvious to pinpoint than others. There are many individuals who sorely base the issue of child abuse on physical marks, but it is important to understand that it also involves physical or emotional neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse.

h) Understand the Causes:

There is a belief that most parents do not intentionally cause harm or neglect to their children. In many cases, parents have also been victims of abuse or neglect and face psychological barriers that hinder what is considered as normal parenting conditions. It is important that everyone understands the causes of child abuse, which makes prevention measures much easier to execute.

i) Support Family Programs:

Donating your time or money to programs that support families and aim to prevent child abuse is a good way to do your part as a member of the community [8].

j) Report Suspected Abuse or Neglect:

Some people witness possible cases of child abuse and do or say nothing because of a variety of reasons. Witnesses to possible child abuse are often afraid to break up a family; fear retaliation; or take on the stance that it is “none of their business.” All too often, the life or continuous cycle of abuse could have been broken when neighbors, family, friends, and school teachers do their part in making inquires and filing reports.

k) Evaluate Parenting Skills:

To prevent the possibility of child abuse affecting a family, parents may take an active role in assessing and evaluating their abilities as a parent, which is vital in the development of a child. There are also many resources available for parents to consider when they wish to get help and prevent a possible act of child abuse.

l) Teach Proper Safety Measures:

The threat of the kind of child abuse that comes from encounters with strangers can be lessened when teaching children effective safety measures. For example, it is important to stress that strangers are any person they do not know, regardless of the circumstances or how frequently they may have seen them (such as the case of the friendly, local store clerk) [9].


[9] Raising Safe Kids in an Unsafe World by Jan Wagner (pg. 44)

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