We all have a role to play in building strong communities in which families and children are valued and supported.
It is in these kinds of communities that children are safest from abuse and neglect. Here are some things you can do as a concerned individual.
Prevent Child Abuse America has developed the following Five Rs, which can help individuals better understand the role they can play in child abuse prevention.
1. Raise The Issue
Call or write your candidates and elected officials to educate them about issues in your community and the need for child abuse prevention, intervention and treatment programs.
Contact your local school district and faith community to encourage them to sponsor classes and support programs for new parents.
2. Reach out to kids and parents in your community
Anything you do to support kids and parents in your family and extended community help to reduce the likelihood of child abuse and neglect.
Be a good neighbor. Offer to baby-sit. Donate your children’s used clothing, furniture and toys for use by another family. Be kind and supportive, particularly to new parents and children.
3. Remember the risk factors
Child abuse and neglect occur in all segments of our society, but the risk factors are greater in families where parents:
- Abuse alcohol or drugs
- Are isolated from their families or communities
- Have difficulty controlling their anger or stress
- Appear uninterested in the care, nourishment or safety of their children
- Seem to be having serious economic, housing or personal problems
4. Recognize the warning signs
Some of the warning signs that a child might be abused or neglected include:
- Nervousness around adults
- Aggression toward adults or other children
- Inability to stay awake or to concentrate for extended periods
- Sudden, dramatic changes in personality or activities
- Acting out sexually or showing interest in sex that is not appropriate for his or her age
- Frequent or unexplained bruises or injuries
- Low self-esteem
- Poor hygiene
5. Report suspected abuse or neglect
If you suspect abuse or neglect is occurring, report it—and keep reporting it—until something is done. Contact child protective services (in your local phone book) or your local police department.
Other Ways You Can Help
Promote protective factors for healthy families.
- Promote early bonding and nurturing throughout childhood
- Develop knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development to help children reach their full potential
- Recognize and support parental resiliency (ability to handle stressors and recover from occasional crises)
- Encourage social connections to build a stronger base of parenting support
- Address concerns related to resources for concrete supports for parents
Build a support network by getting involved in your neighborhood.
- Develop friendly relationships with your neighbors and their children. Problems often seem less overwhelming when you have support nearby
- Get involved in your child’s school. Join the parent-teacher organization and attend school events
- Talk to your friends and neighbors about child abuse and how to prevent it
Learn how your community supports children and families
The following programs may be offered through schools, healthcare clinics, social service agencies or community or faith-based organizations:
- Parent education programs teach parents about child development and parenting skills
- Home-visiting programs provide social support, education, and crisis intervention to families at risk for abuse. (See Healthy Families America’s Website)
- Substance abuse treatment programs can help parents overcome problems with alcohol or other drugs
- Well-baby programs provide health and education services to new parents
- Childcare programs offer affordable childcare services. This may allow parents to maintain full-time jobs or stay in school while keeping their children safe.
- Respite care provides relief to families with a child or other family member who is ill or has a disability
- Parent mentor programs match experienced stable parents with parents at risk for abuse. Mentors provide support and model positive parenting skills.
- Family support centers offer an array of preventive support services, including many of those listed above, as well as referral to other community services (See Family Support America’s Website.)
- Parent support groups offer a place for parents to meet and discuss parenting issues, exchange ideas, and offer support. To access and view schedules of our programs and services please go to events in our Web site.
Take part in community prevention efforts
- Help local organizations distribute educational materials on parenting and child abuse prevention
- Encourage local schools or other community organizations to provide parenting education
- Offer to speak to the media and other groups about your own experiences as a parent. Parents Anonymous® Inc. has a resource guide, Media Guide for Parent Leaders, that may be helpful. (See Parents Anonymous® Inc.’s Web site.)
- Organize a fundraiser or a food drive to support an organization that helps families in your community
- Offer to teach a seminar on strengthening marriages. Talk with others at community events (neighborhood fairs, back-to-school nights, holiday festivals) about why it is important to have a healthy marriage and how they can strengthen marriages in their communities
- Provide friendship and guidance to parents and children who need your help by volunteering for programs such as Befriend-a-Child or Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)
- Contact your elected officials and ask them to support funding for prevention efforts and policies that support children and families
- Make a donation to an organization that works to prevent child abuse. You can donate money, or give clothing, food, or toys to a social service agency that helps families in your community
- Start or join a community coalition to prevent child abuse and neglect
Recognizing Child Abuse and Neglect: Signs and Symptoms
Year Published: 2007
The first step in helping abused or neglected children is learning to recognize the signs of child abuse and neglect. The presence of a single sign doesn’t prove child abuse is occurring in a family; however, when these signs appear repeatedly or in combination, you should take a closer look at the situation and consider the possibility of child abuse.
If you do suspect a child is being harmed, reporting your suspicions may protect the child and get help for the family. Contact your local child protective services agency or police department.
Recognizing Child Abuse
The following signs may signal the presence of child abuse or neglect.
- Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
- Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention
- Has learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
- Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
- Lacks adult supervision
- Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn
- Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home
- Shows little concern for the child
- Denies the existence of—or blames the child for—the child’s problems in school or at home
- Asks teachers or other caretakers to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves
- Sees the child as entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome
- Demands a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve
- Looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of emotional needs
The Parent and Child:
- Rarely touch or look at each other
- Consider their relationship entirely negative
- State that they do not like each other
Types of Abuse
The following are some signs often associated with the four particular types of child abuse and neglect: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and emotional abuse. It’s important to note, however, these types of abuse are more typically found in combination than alone. A physically abused child, for example, is often emotionally abused as well, and a sexually abused child also may be neglected.
Signs of Physical Abuse
Consider the possibility of physical abuse when the child:
- Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones or black eyes
- Has fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school
- Seems frightened of the parent or caregiver and protests or cries when it is time to go home
- Shrinks at the approach of adults
- Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver
Consider the possibility of physical abuse when the parent or other adult caregiver:
- Offers conflicting, unconvincing, or no explanation for the child’s injury
- Describes the child as “evil,” or in some other very negative way
- Uses harsh physical discipline with the child
- Has a history of abuse as a child
Signs of Neglect
Consider the possibility of neglect when the child:
- Is frequently absent from school
- Begs or steals food or money.
- Lacks needed medical or dental care, immunizations or glasses
- Is consistently dirty and has severe body odor
- Lacks sufficient clothing for the weather
- Abuses alcohol or other drugs
- States that there is no one at home to provide care
- Has unattended physical or medical problems
Consider the possibility of neglect when the parent or other adult caregiver:
- Appears to be indifferent to the child
- Seems apathetic or depressed
- Behaves irrationally or in a bizarre manner
- Is abusing alcohol or other drugs
Signs of Sexual Abuse
Consider the possibility of sexual abuse when the child:
- Has difficulty walking or sitting due to pain, bleeding, redness or swelling in anal or genital area.
- Suddenly refuses to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
- Reports nightmares or bedwetting
- Experiences a sudden change in appetite
- Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior
- Age-inappropriate sexual play with toys, self or others
- Becomes pregnant or contracts a venereal disease, particularly if less than 14 years old
- Runs away
- Reports sexual abuse by a parent or another adult caregiver
Consider the possibility of sexual abuse when the parent or other adult caregiver:
- Is unduly protective of the child or severely limits the child’s contact with other children, especially of the opposite sex
- Is secretive and isolated
- Is jealous or controlling with family members
Signs of Emotional Maltreatment
Consider the possibility of emotional maltreatment when the child:
- Shows extremes in behavior, such as overly compliant or demanding behavior, extreme passivity or aggression
- Is either inappropriately adult (parenting other children, for example) or inappropriately infantile (frequently rocking or head-banging, for example)
- Is delayed in physical or emotional development
- Has attempted suicide.
- Reports a lack of attachment to the parent
Consider the possibility of emotional maltreatment when the parent or other adult caregiver:
- Constantly blames, belittles or berates the child
- Is unconcerned about the child and refuses to consider offers of help for the child’s problems
- Overtly rejects the child