October marks Child Abuse Prevention Month.
It is hard to imagine that any child is ever abused, but unfortunately it is a reality.
According to the Province of Alberta, abuse falls into many categories including neglect which is defined as any lack of care that causes serious harm to a child’s development or endangers a child in any way.
Failure to meet the child’s day-to-day physical needs includes not providing adequate nutrition, clothing, shelter or health care; appropriate supervision and protection from harm.
Emotional neglect is not meeting the child’s ongoing emotional needs for affection or sense of belonging.
Emotional abuse is verbal attacks on a sense of self, repeated humiliation or rejection.
Exposure to violence, drugs, alcohol abuse or severe conflict in the home, forced isolation, restraint or causing a child to be afraid much of the time may also cause emotional harm.
Physical abuse is the intentional use of force on any part of a child’s body that results in injuries.
It may be a single incident or a series or pattern of incidents.
Sexual abuse is the exposure of a child to sexual contact, activity or behaviour. It includes any sexual touching, intercourse or exploitation and can be perpetrated by anyone including a parent or guardian, caregiver, extended family, family member, neighbour or stranger.
There are many things that can contribute to child abuse including stress, inadequate parenting skills, lack of positive parent/child involvement, criminal or mental health issues, many children to care for or poverty are all factors that can lead to child abuse.
Family violence, lack of family supports, history of child abuse and alcohol and drug abuse can also be contributors to child abuse.
There are also signs that a child may be neglected or abused.
A child who is continually hungry, dirty or unsuitably dressed for the weather. A young child who is often left alone or inadequately supervised; a child who is extremely withdrawn or who is usually aggressive to other people; a child who has unexplained bruises or injuries; a child who shows knowledge of sexual matters beyond their age of development or who exhibits sexualized behaviour around adults or other children and a child who runs away from home or who does not want to be at home.
There are a number of steps to take should a child choose to open up about their abusive circumstances.
First of all, listen and allow the child to relay what happened in his or her own words, do not ask leading questions, remain calm and neutral and do not overreact or show horror or anger or any other reaction that would lead the child to believe the abuse was his or her fault.
Support or acknowledge the child’s feelings and reassure the child and tell them that you believe what you have heard. Also, comfort the child by saying that it was a good thing for him or her to tell you and assure the child that you will do something to help.
It’s also important to not attempt to intervene on your own but to contact your local child and family services office or call the child abuse hotline at 1-800-387-KIDS.
Once a report is made, the information provided by the caller will be assessed to determine if the child or the family is truly in need of assistance and what supports might be to address their needs. The family may be referred to community supports, receive services or supports in their home or the child may need to be placed out of the home while supports are being provided.
It is important to encourage children to be open about any of these kinds of experiences and to never keep them to themselves.
Children are the community’s future and they need to be nurtured and protected.
We as a community have a responsibility to make sure our children are safe and grow up in the best circumstances possible.