Did you know that a report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds? April is also Child Abuse Prevention Month. While prevention is important at all times, April is a time for communities to come to together and raise awareness. Together we can strengthen families and caregivers, and help prevent child abuse or neglect from taking place.
It is important to take this time to learn about abuse types, the recovery process, and how to help. Especially in times of crisis, such as the pandemic, where other avenues of help might not be as available.
Factors that play a role in abuse
The first five years of a child’s life are a crucial and sensitive time period. This is when children begin to form their personality traits. In addition, children, by nature, are very vulnerable. Therefore, they are very reliant on the adults in their lives to help them. This makes them more susceptible to abuse.
Child abuse occurs when a parent a or caregiver causes injury, harm, or risk to a child through action or inaction. One thing to note is that there are different types of abuse, not all abuse is physical. When it comes to classifying abuse with children there are five main categories.
This type of abuse is a non-accidental physical injury to a child caused by a parent, caregiver, or other person responsible for a child. An example would be throwing a child against a wall or pushing them down the stairs.
This type of abuse involves any acts performed by an adult, teenager or child who uses their power or authority to involve another child in sexual activity. Examples are touching genital areas or forcing a child to look at pornography.
This type of abuse is the act of using a child for profit, labor, sexual gratification, or some other personal or financial advantage. This type of abuse is also sometimes paired with sex trafficking. Examples of this would be taking inappropriate photos or videos of a child and then selling them.
This type of abuse is when a child is treated in a way that negatively impacts their social, emotional, or intellectual development and sense of self worth. Examples of this could be telling a child they are stupid, dumb, or that nobody likes them.
This type of abuse is when a caregiver fails to provide for a child’s basic needs. This includes physical needs, food, shelter, medical care, basic education, and emotional needs. This includes abandonment, or anytime a child has been left alone with no regard of their wellbeing.
Some states also consider parental substance use to be neglect. This would be under situations in which a child is exposed to harm. This can occur parentally, due to a mother’s use of harmful substances, or after they are born. Other examples include making or selling illegal substances in the presence of a child, as well as giving those substances to a child. Additionally, using a controlled substance that impairs the caregiver’s ability to adequately care for the child is considered neglect.
Impact that abuse has on a child
Regardless of which type of abuse takes place, it makes an impact on a child. It is important to look at the whole picture. The impact can be physical, emotional, social, or psychological for the child. This involves the way they are able to express emotions and the level of comfort and trust they feel with others. Abuse can also lower self-esteem and increase the likelihood of developing mental illnesses. In addition, they may struggle to develop healthy relationships with others. This includes attachment styles. Typically, after experiencing abuse or trauma, some people form defense mechanisms. These can range from complete obedience to aggression in relationships. They may also struggle to create and enforce boundaries.
How can we help a child who has been exposed to abuse? When it comes to recovery, it is important to be understanding and calm. Children who have experienced abuse may show signs of reckless or impulsive behavior, self-harm and substance-use. On the other hand, some children will develop perfectionism or show signs of parentification. Some will appear to be in denial about the abuse altogether. An example might be a child suddenly wetting the bed again. Or, a teenager, who is normally independent, becoming increasingly codependent with their parents.
How to help?
It might feel overwhelming to find out that a child has experienced any of the abovementioned types of abuse. This can also make it difficult if you want to help but aren’t sure how. One way to help is by taking them to see a therapist. Children’s therapists know how to communicate with children using things like Play Therapy. This is a great option for children because it uses a therapeutic approach that allows children to express painful feelings in their own way, like through playing. The most important thing to remember when helping a child is making sure that they feel safe with whoever they are seeing.
As I mentioned earlier, April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. In addition to discussing this topic, I think it’s important to highlight available resources. For example, child protection centers. One reason these centers exist is to help children and families build protective factors. Protective factors are important because they help with resilience in children. Additionally, they help create nurturing and supporting attachment styles and help form healthy communication styles.
Last but not least, here are some tips for being supportive of a child who has experienced abuse:
- Remain calm
- Reassure that child that the abuse is not their fault
- Reassure that child that you believe what they are telling you
- Make finding safety for that child a priority
- Report it to the necessary authorities