April 20, 2013

Help take action against child abuse


---- — This month, I thought it would be a good idea to share some concerning information about child abuse, an important problem that exists in our communities.

Child abuse occurs when a parent or other adult causes serious physical, sexual or emotional harm to a child, or neglects or abandons them. More than 1 million children are abused every year in this country, and these are only the reported incidents. Sadly, most children know their abusers, and the abuse usually occurs in the home, making it tough for the child to speak up. It can also occur when infants are shaken, resulting in brain damage or death if the abuse is not detected in time.

Abusers come from all walks of life and, unfortunately, there is no classic profile. Often, the abuser was abused as a child themselves. 

The good news is that while anyone with access to a child can mistreat them, the vast majority of people don’t.

How can you suspect abuse may be going on, though? Certainly watch for bruises that keep occurring, recurrent abdominal pain or headaches that have no clear cause. Other signs include a child who becomes withdrawn, fearful, sad, develops low self-esteem or who starts to bully others. A child who has nightmares, trouble sleeping, becomes disruptive and acts out in class or whose grades drop unexpectedly should raise concerns. If a child does not seek comfort from a parent or other caregiver, that, too, is a concerning sign. While these signs may mean other things, you need to at least consider that abuse is a possibility.

If you suspect a child is being abused, take action. Anyone can and should call the New York State Child Abuse and Maltreatment center at 1 (800) 342-3720 to report concerns. If you are a child who is being physically or emotionally hurt or harmed in a way that frightens you, talk to someone you trust — whether it is a parent, relative, teacher or family friend.

If you feel so frustrated with your child’s crying or other behavior that you may want to strike or hurt them, place the child with a friend or relative where they’re safe and speak to a trained professional by calling 1 (800) CHILDREN. You can call this number if you feel threatened as well and get assistance and counseling

The earlier that abuse can be suspected and stopped, the less destructive it will be.

Hopefully these tips have allowed you to know more about your role in reporting suspected child abuse.

Dr. Lewis First is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.