Preventing child abuse is a top priority for social service agencies, families, teachers, and others in the community. Certainly it is a top priority for government agencies and law enforcement as well. This paper reviews and critiques the importance of taking those actions that prevent a child from being maltreated in any number of ways; the paper also reviews the statistics relating to child abuse, and provides information on how to detect that a child has been abused in some way.
How many children are abused in the United States each year?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the number of children that are "maltreated" each year in the United States at 900,000. There are other reports that have differing data on child abuse. The organization Child Maltreatment Reports has compiled what the Health and Human Services (HHS) department explains is the "most recent data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS)." The number that NCANDS uses for the Federal fiscal year (FFY) 2009, is 702,000 "unique number of children" -- that is the number of victims (not including duplicates -- reporting twice for the same child). Of those 702,000 victims, 78% suffered from neglect; about 18% were physically abused; around 10% were sexually abused; an estimated 8% were psychologically or emotionally maltreated; about 2% were "medically neglected"; and another 10% were mistreated in "other" ways, for example, they were abandoned, received threats of harm, or were addicted to drugs "congenitally" (HHS).
The National Child Abuse Statistics (NCAS) organization (www.childhelp.org) asserts that around "3 million reports of child abuse are made every year" in the U.S. albeit they include "multiple" reports of the same child, it is understood. A report of a child being abused is made "every ten seconds" in the U.S. And "almost five children die every day" from abuse (NCAS). Moreover, as evidence that abused children often lead troubled lives, the NCAS explains that 31% of women in prison were abused in their childhood, more than 60% of those in drug rehabilitation centers claim to have been abused or neglected in their childhood, and children who are abused / neglected are 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile (NCAS).
Prevention of Child Abuse
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses four approaches in its mission to prevent violence to children. The CDC has the "Division of Violence Prevention" (DVP) within its purview that places an emphasis on violence prevention "before it occurs." This approach calls for attempting to reduce the "factors" that are most likely to put people at risk in the first place, along with "increasing the factors that protect people from becoming perpetrators of violence." In addition the CDC's DVP monitors and tracks trends (though public health surveillance, among other strategies), the DVP uses science-based research to investigate risks and protective factors, and the DVP "rigorously evaluates interventions" in order to learn how best to "implement and disseminate" those interventions (CDC).
The third approach is called "a cross-cutting perspective," and it entails bringing together a number of related fields in order to focus on violence prevention. The many sectors of public service include: business, health, media, criminal justice, behavioral science, social science, epidemiology, and education. The CDC interweaves these into a program of prevention because various forms of violence are "interrelated"; for example, child maltreatment (CM) is known to lead later in life to "interpersonal violence and suicidal behavior, hence, the relationship with prevention during childhood. The fourth approach -- a population approach -- entails making needed changes in the various conditions and factors that put people at risk in the first place. That means working with the community, the family, and other levels of the social ecology to reduce rates of violence to all, which will hopefully have a trickle-down effect on children as well.
The CDC uses the acronym SSNR (safe, stable, and nurturing relationships, words that don't need further definition or explanation) as a strategy for reducing child maltreatment. For starters, the CDC's programs in the community begin with teaching parents how to use positive approaches to child-rearing; part of that is simply teaching management skills, not necessarily ethics or morality or law-related issues. When there is a report of a child that has been maltreated, the local social service professions bring the family into a clinical setting and use "positive reinforcement" tactics that are known to "reduce CM" (CDC, p. 4). Positive reinforcement is the watchword for this kind of intervention.
Another intervention is shared with parents when their baby initially arrives in a hospital setting. According to CDC, before the mother is discharged from the hospital, the new parents are shown (and explained in great detail) that there are seriously "detrimental effects" when the infant is shaken violently for any reason. This advice has been found to have "a substantial impact on reducing rates of abusive head trauma to infants" (CDC, p. 4). Another worthwhile intervention is PCIT (parent child interaction therapy), that involves training for parents and children that gives parents "specific skills using live coaching and dyadic parent-child sessions," the CDC explains.
Sometimes the child is born into a family that is economically challenged, and in those cases children with a lack of social support can be at "a high risk" for being abused. By social support the CDC is referring to quality childcare services, or responsible baby-sitting, which can be very helpful in getting the child out of a potentially damaging, abusive home environment. What is needed sometimes -- but not always available due to funding or other issues -- is a comprehensive child-parent center, that offers an "enriched learning environment" that not only helps the child develop in a healthy way, but actively promotes positive parent-child interactions (CDC, p. 5).
How does the CDC know if any or all of the strategies mentioned are effective. On page 6 of their fact sheet the CDC recognizes that there is more to do, and more that needs to be done to prevent abuse of innocent children. For one thing, there needs to be a better way to collect and distribute the "incidence and prevalence of nonfatal" child maltreatment across the country. For another thing, there are not adequate systems in place to monitor and describe homicides that are related to child abuse. Moreover, better SSNR measures need to be developed and more attention needs to be paid to the success and failure of various programs already in place (CDC, pp. 6-7).
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of child abuse is critical
There are signs that a teacher or childcare professional, or a neighbor or baby sitter should be able to recognize that indicate the child has been maltreated. They are listed by the organization Prevent Child Abuse America (PCAA), and include: a) sudden changes in behavior or performance in school; b) medical problems that are not attended to; c) nervous, watchful eyes as though the child is readying himself for something to happen; d) little or no adult supervision; e) comes to school early, stays late, would rather not go home (www.preventchildabuse.org). When the parent acts certain ways, there are clues in those behaviors as well, according to PCAA. For example, if the parent rarely responds to the school's requests for home visits, conferences and information, it could be a sign of trouble for the child. If the child has been told he is bad, or worthless, and a burden to his family, the teacher needs to take that seriously. When a child has cuts or burns, or bruises, with no explanation that could be a sign of abuse. Missing a lot of school, or isn't properly dressed for the weather, or is "consistently dirty and has severe body odor," those are telltale signs of potential abuse.
Additional signs that a teacher, pastor, childcare professional or counselor should notice is when parent and child are together they "rarely touch or look at each other"; or when either state they don't like each other; or when the parent is obviously abusing alcohol; these are all warning sirens that should be going off when they are realized, and yet none of them prove anything at all, they are just clues that should be followed up on (PCAA, p. 2).
Authors Deborah Daro and Kenneth Dodge expound on the idea that preventing child abuse should be a community effort. They suggest that there are two components of intervention that show promise: "social capital development," and "community coordination of individualized services" (Daro, et al., 2009, p. 71). Social capital development simply means that there is a tight-knit group of community members that are "…collectively engaged in supporting each other and in protecting children" (71). The community services that are available (but not always delivered) should be a main goal of the community members building social capital; the ability to strengthen the "service infrastructure" by making coordination a main goal, and "streamlining service delivery" can lead to a collective intervention that can save…