Help Take Action Against Child Abuse

Help Take Action Against Child Abuse

Since April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month, I thought it would be a good idea to share some concerning information about this most important problem – one that still exists in our communities.

Child abuse occurs when a parent or other adult causes serious physical, sexual or emotional harm to a child, or neglects or abandons a child. More than 1 million children are abused every year in this country and these are only the reported incidents.  Sadly, most children know their abusers and the abuse usually occurs in the home, thus making it tough for children to speak up.  It can also occur when infants are shaken, resulting in brain damage or death, if not detected in time.

So who is at risk for abusing a child? Unfortunately, there is no classic profile, and abusers come from all walks of life.  Often the abuser has been abused as a child themselves.  The good news is that, while anyone with access to a child can mistreat a child, the vast majority of people don’t.

How can you suspect abuse may be going on?  Certainly, bruises that keep occurring or keep coming back can be a sign, as can recurrent abdominal pain or headaches with no clear cause – but so can a child who becomes withdrawn, fearful, sad, or develops low self-esteem or starts to bully others. A child who has nightmares or trouble sleeping or becomes disruptive and acts out in class, or whose grades drop unexpectedly should raise concerns.  If a child does not seek comfort from a parent or other caregiver, that, too, is a concerning sign.  While these signs might mean other things, you need to at least consider abuse as a possibility.

If you suspect a child is being abused, take action.  Anyone can and should call the Vermont Department of Children and Families at 1800-649-5285 or in New York at 1-800-342-3720 24 hours a day and report your concerns – doing so can be life-saving.  If you are a child who is being physically or emotionally hurt or harmed in a way that frightens you, talk to someone you trust – whether that is a parent, relative, teacher, or family friend. 

If you feel so frustrated with your child’s crying or other behavior that you may want to strike or hurt your child, place the child with a friend or relative where they’re safe and speak to a trained professional by calling 1-800-CHILDREN.  You can call this number if you feel threatened as well and get assistance and counseling.

The earlier that abuse can be suspected and stopped, the less destructive it will be.

Hopefully, tips like this will not hurt at all when it comes to knowing more about your role in reporting suspected child abuse. 

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids.