Child abuse can cause lasting impact on the individual and even society. The costs due to new child maltreatment cases in a single year (with over 700,000 documented victims of child abuse last year) is estimated to be over $124 billion in the United States alone. As you know, all children deserve good childhoods and to be raised in loving, nurturing homes, free from abuse and neglect. Children raised in such environments are more likely to lead healthy, productive, and successful lives.
Child neglect is the part of maltreatment of children that is often overlooked, but accounts for nearly 70% of child abuse cases in California. Child maltreatment has serious negative impact on health including physical injuries and the stress can disrupt early brain development including the nervous and immune system.
So, how do we prevent child abuse? We must create prevention strategies to promote safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments for children and their families. These strategies should include teaching positive parenting skills like good communication, appropriate discipline, and response to children’s physical and emotional needs. Social support for parents and children is key. Quality child care and early childhood education can help improve cognitive and socioemotional development that increases the likelihood that children will experience safe, nurturing relationships and environments. Your role in creating a quality and supportive school is invaluable in promoting social skills and cognitive development in children, making even abused or neglected children more likely to be healthy and succeed in the future.
As an educator, you can be vital in identifying child abuse or neglect and intervening. Recognition of child maltreatment is often based on the recognition of a cluster of indicators, and even then, they could be indications of something other than abuse. Some signs of child abuse and neglect are identified below:
- Deep bruises often without explanation
- Lots of broken bones
- Wearing inappropriate clothing for the weather
- Sexual behaviors in young children; or age-inappropriate sexual knowledge
- Physical aggression, especially toward younger children
- Difficult to control or understand in a classroom; seeking attention even if it is negative
- Cowering or demonstrated fear of adults
- Coming to school too early and/or not wanting to leave school
- Disliking or shrinking away from physical contact; not tolerating even praise like a high five or pat on the back
- Exceptionally poor hygiene
- Numerous unexplained absences
Here are some things to keep in mind if you are speaking with an abused child about the abuse:
- Do not appear shocked because a strong reaction may affect the child’s comfort level
- If the child is self-disclosing, praise the child for revealing what has happened.
- Let the child tell his or her story without probing for information the child is unwilling to give; the goal is to make the child as comfortable as possible under the circumstances
- It is important to reassure children that they are not at fault
- You must always remember that you are a mandated reporter, and this should be explained to the child in an age-appropriate way
*Information from: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/understanding-cm-factsheet.pdf, https://www.kidsdata.org/topic/2/child-abuse-and-neglect/summary#, https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/long_term_consequences.pdf#page=5&view=Behavioral%20Consequences, https://www.cdc.gov/features/healthychildren/index.html