Child abuse and neglect impacted an estimated 1,720 children in the U.S. in 2017, many of whom died from the severity of their situation. Child abuse can happen in any family no matter what their religion, culture, socioeconomic or educational background. Child abuse can also happen outside of the family in the form of bullying or in other community settings. Although State laws differ on what qualifies as abuse, Federal legislation defines child maltreatment as “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”
There are four main types of child abuse;
Physical abuse is any non-accidental physical injury caused by anything from punching, beating, kicking, shaking, burning, choking etc., inflicted by the parent or guardian responsible for the child’s care.
Neglect is the failure of the parent or guardian to fulfill the child’s basic needs. This may include lack of food, shelter, supervision, medical treatment, education or emotional needs. Abandonment is also seen as a form of neglect in many states.
Sexual abuse as defined by the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) is “the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.”
Emotional abuse is repeated behavior that hinders the emotional development and self-worth of a child. This may come in the form of constant criticism, rejection, or withholding of love and support.
In addition, the use, selling, making or distribution of illegal drugs around children is also considered abuse in many states.
Child abuse affects every aspect of a child’s life, from self-esteem, to physical and mental development. These are some of the signs you can look for if you suspect a youth is being abused;
• New fears, child may become scared, shy or withdrawn
• Emotional changes
• Sleep difficulties or nightmares
• Change in or loss of appetite
• Lack of personal hygiene
• Difficulty at school
• Guilt or embarrassment
• Difficulty trusting others
There is no one reason why child abuse happens, but there are some factors that make the likelihood of abuse within a family, higher. Someone who grows up in an abusive family may think abuse is the best way to discipline their own children. Others are abusive because they don’t have the skills to appropriately handle anger or other emotions. Drugs and alcohol also play a part. Substance abuse makes it difficult for people to make good decisions and properly control their behavior towards others.
Youth that have been abused may find it extremely difficult to ask for help. Often, they may feel the abuse is their fault, or the abuser may manipulate them or threaten more harm if the youth speaks out. Also, the youth may not realize he or she is being abused. If the abuse has been prevalent for the entirety of the child’s life, they may think the abusive way of living is normal. In other cases, the youth may be worried about the consequences of reporting abuse, especially if the abuser is a family member.
If you suspect a child that you know is being abused it’s important to report your suspicions, so the child and the family can receive help. Reporting concerns is not an accusation, instead it is a request for an assessment to determine if the child needs help. Some professionals, especially those that work directly with youth are “mandatory reporters” and are required by law to report suspicions of child abuse. In Ventura County call the Child Protective Services’ 24-hour hotline at (805) 654-3200 to report child abuse.
Child abuse happens in every community. It’s important to educate yourself and be able to recognize the signs of abuse. Through awareness and open communication with the youth in your life, you can not only give them a voice, but you can react when abuse happens, so children and families can receive the help and support they need.