May 01, 2015

Preventing Child Abuse: Six Strategies for Families

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Every 10 seconds a report is made concerning a child being abused. Child abuse can lead to lifelong physical, emotional and psychological conditions. Each year in the U.S., more than 1,600 children die from abuse or neglect. 

“The trauma of abuse or neglect of a child can have life-long consequences. The physical wounds heal but research is showing that the effects on a child’s social, emotional and future physical health is far more damaging than we once thought,” said Mary E. Jones, MD, child advocacy physician at Loyola University Health System.

Child abuse is divided into four types: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and emotional maltreatment. Most children suffer from a combination of these types. The first step to helping an abused child is to recognize the signs.

“One of the major challenges in knowing when a child is suffering maltreatment is that the child rarely discloses to anyone that the abuse is occurring,” Jones said.

Here are a few signs that a child might be dealing with abuse:

  • Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
  • Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention
  • Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
  • Lacks adult supervision
  • Is overly compliant, an overachiever or too responsible
  • Comes to school early, stays late and does not want to go home

More important than awareness is prevention when it comes to keeping children safe from abuse.

“All families can use a little help and families with limited resources or those with other challenges have an even greater need. When families have access to resources that offer information, support and guidance that help them meet the challenges of parenting we have a greater chance of keeping children safe while fostering the well-being of the entire family,” Jones said.

Here are a few prevention strategies to share with families:

  • Be a nurturing parent. Your child needs to know he or she is loved and special from you.

  • Help a friend, neighbor or relative. Parenting is hard and a 24/7 job. By offering to help you can relieve stress and help a parent to refocus.

  • Take a Parent Time Out. Dealing with lots of issues or when a child is crying uncontrollably can cause parents to feel out of control. If you feel yourself starting to lose control or overwhelmed take a time out for yourself. Make sure your child is in a safe location and remove yourself for a few minutes to calm down. 

  • Help out. Get involved in community efforts to prevent child abuse such as ensuring there are free resources for parents and kids in local libraries, schools and other community areas. 

  • Monitor your child’s television, video and Internet use. Children are influenced by what they see. Make sure they aren’t watching violent TV shows or playing violent games. Also, it’s easy for predators to disguise themselves online so set limits and make sure you know what your child is doing while playing games or just spending time on the Internet.

  • Report suspected abuse or neglect. If you believe a child has been or may be harmed, contact your local police department or the department of child and family services.