Child abuse and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), though not always easy to talk about, are a serious and major problem among children today. All forms of child maltreatment—emotional/psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect can have long-term impacts on the health, opportunity and wellbeing of a child.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in seven children have experienced child abuse and/or neglect in the past year, and this is likely an underestimate. In 2019, 1,840 children died of abuse and neglect in the United States.
Children who are abused and neglected may suffer from immediate injuries such as bruises, cuts, and broken bones. They may also suffer from psychological issues such as anxiety, PTSD and impaired social and emotional skills.
Here are five ways adults can help prevent child abuse:
Be open and talk about it.
It’s important to discuss with children, in age-appropriate language, what abuse is, personal boundaries, and the correct terminology for their body parts. Children who are not provided information, openness and vocabulary often have a difficult time articulating abuse if it is happening to them. Children are often afraid of speaking up if abuse is happening to them, in fear that they will get in trouble or that their abuser will further hurt them, and often hold onto the secret for days, weeks or even months.
Know the facts.
It’s important as adults to know what is going on. One in seven children have experienced some sort of child abuse prior to turning 18, and approximately 60 percent of abused children are abused by someone they trust.
Recognize the signs.
Adults should know and be aware of the signs of child abuse and neglect, though sometimes it is difficult to detect. Some children will begin to complain more frequently about physical discomfort and show signs of anxiety such as a stomachache. Psychological signs are easier to detect as abused children will often act or lash out, or even withdraw completely.
Roughly 80 percent of child abuse cases happen on a one-on-one, isolated situation. Reducing one-on-one isolated situations between adults and children can significantly reduce the risk of abuse.
When adults are notified of abuse, it is very alarming and difficult to handle. Knowing that you are prepared, skilled and supported can help you to provide a calm and nurturing response to the child. Although it is difficult for adults, it is extraordinarily difficult for the child who has built up the courage to trust you with the information. Do not panic, and let the child know that you are there for them, and thank them for taking action and telling you.