By Danielle Nason
April is Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention month, but child abuse isn’t something that we should only focus on for four weeks out of the year. There are many types of child abuse, from child neglect, physical abuse, sexual, and even emotional abuse. Shaken baby syndrome and domestic violence are also common forms of child abuse reported in Montana.
According to joyfulheartfoundation.org, child abuse is broadly defined as an act, or failure to act, that results in a child being at risk of harm or resulting in serious harm, including physical or emotional harm, exploitation, or even death. Neglect occurs when a caretaker fails to provide for a child’s basic needs.
Notice how the definition of child abuse refers to the act or neglect that has already happened. The problem is that by the time a crime of child abuse has been disclosed, or the appropriate warning signs have appeared, the abuse or neglect has likely already occurred.
“My siblings and I were both physically and verbally abused in our childhood. Abuse is something that even as adults we continue to carry scars from. With physical abuse, you wear the scars on the outside and sometimes people can see them. But with verbal abuse, it can be so much worse on a child, because you hold those scars on the inside and no one can see them,” said a Troy resident who prefers to remain anonymous.
According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children (ASPCC), neglect is the number one form of child abuse in the United States, resulting in five children dying unnecessarily from child abuse every day.
The ASPCC notes that according to recent studies, children under the age of one suffer the highest rates of child abuse and that parent drug and alcohol abuse are major child abuse risk factors. Parents are the number one perpetrators of child abuse.
What can you do to help protect your child or the other children in your life? One way that we can help protect children is to have the difficult conversations about sexual abuse and sexuality; teach them what is acceptable and what is not. A child should be able to say “no” when they know that something is inappropriate, and they should have someone they trust and can confide in if needed.
“Do all you can to prevent child abuse before it occurs instead of afterwards. If you can confidently say the children you love are aware of what abuse is and how to respond, then you have taken a massive step towards doing all you can to prevent child abuse,” said Angie Brown of Children’s Advocacy Centers.
When you talk to your children about child abuse and sexual abuse, you empower them to say “no” to unwanted touching or anything else that they know to be inappropriate. Remember to keep your talks age appropriate and teach children the anatomically correct names for their body parts. If a child knows the terms and which body parts are private, they are less likely to be confused and abused, according to Harvard statistics. Children need a parent or trusted adult to go to with questions and concerns. For children who do not have someone to reach out to, seeking some of the resources mentioned in this article may help.
“Child abuse and neglect is a national issue that affects us all. The consequences of child abuse and neglect ripple across the lifespan, negatively impacting a child’s chances to succeed in school, work, and relationships,” said Jerry Milner, Associate Commissioner of Children’s Bureau Administration on Children, Youth and Families of Health and Human Services.
Fourteen percent of all men in prison, and 36% of women in prison in the United States were abused as children, about twice the frequency seen in the general population, according to the ASPCC; Children who experience child abuse and neglect are approximately nine times more likely to become involved in criminal activity.
“More focus should be placed on educating our children in order to deter abuse before it happens. It is incumbent on each of us to keep children out of harm’s way,” said Brown.
When or if you have information that leads you to suspect child abuse or neglect may be occurring, call the Montana statewide toll-free Child Abuse Hotline at 1-866-820-KIDS (1-866-820-5437). This Hotline is available 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
The Lincoln County Office of the Child and Family Services Division (CFSD) protects children who have been or are currently at substantial risk of abuse, neglect or abandonment and strives to assure that all children have a family who will protect them from harm, according to their website. If you have questions or concerns, Libby’s CFSD Office can be contacted at 933 Farm to Market Road, Suite D., or by phone at 283-3011.
“Thousands of children are alive and safe today because a principal or a teacher or some other caring adult at school was sensitive to a particular child’s behavior, was willing to observe and to listen, and then acted on that information by filing a report. Reporting by itself does not guarantee that a child will be protected from continued abuse; but failure to report adds yet another layer of bitterness and betrayal to the suffering of an already betrayed child,” according to the website DPHHS.mt.gov.
Concerns regarding child abuse have reached headlines in past months and have been on the mind of many over the years and throughout the world. A prime example is Montana’s Governor Steve Bullock who signed into law House Bill 303 in April of 2017. This bill created the Child Abuse and Neglect Review Commission.
The Commission was tasked with reviewing trends of abuse and neglect in Montana’s children. The Commission’s job is to examine patterns of child fatalities, near fatalities, to educate the public, service providers and policymakers about child abuse and neglect, and to provide a written report to the Governor, the Legislature, and the Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court to inform discussion of policies and practices that may reduce fatalities.
In addition to HB 303, Governor Bullock signed into law four bipartisan bills this legislative session to increase services and protections for Montana’s kids in the foster care system, according to the www.dphhs.mt.gov site.
In Montana, according to DPHHS, physical neglect is the most common type of child abuse. Physical neglect is either the failure to provide basic necessities, including but not limited to appropriate acceptable nutrition, protective shelter from the elements and appropriate clothing related to weather conditions, or failure to provide cleanliness and general supervision, or both. Exposing or allowing the child to be exposed to an unreasonable physical or psychological risk is also neglect.
Psychological abuse is defined as the repeated action on the part of parents or others that belittles the child, makes the child fearful and stops the healthy developmental and or socio-emotional growth of a child.
Sexual abuse of children is the fourth most common type of child maltreatment in Montana according to DPHHS, but sexual activity between an adult and a child is not the only problem. Sexual activity between children can constitute sexual abuse when there are differences in age or developmental levels, coercion, or when one child takes advantage of another. Sexual abuse involves forcing, tricking, bribing, threatening or pressuring a child into sexual awareness or activity and occurs when an older or more knowledgeable child or adult uses a child for sexual pleasure.
If you or a loved one suffers from any kind of abuse, it is never too late to reach out for help. There are resources ready and waiting to help you take that leap of faith and get the support you need to correct the situation.