Prisma Health Children’s Hospital–Midlands expert offers tips to help community recognize and prevent child abuse
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and a Prisma Health Children’s Hospital–Midlands expert wants to offer tips to help the community recognize and prevent child abuse. “April is the month we recognize the importance of protecting children by highlighting ways we can help prevent child abuse and neglect,” said L. Alex Young, MD, a child abuse pediatrician at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital–Midlands. Young wants the community to know how important it is to work together to protect children.
To help raise awareness, our Child Life team participated in the "Pinwheels for Prevention" campaign. Pinwheels are the national symbol of child abuse prevention and a visible reminder of the happy and healthy childhood that all children deserve.
How prevalent is child abuse and neglect?
Nationally, neglect made up 75 percent of victims of maltreatment, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical abuse accounted for 18 percent. The highest rate of maltreatment was in children in their first year of life.
In South Carolina, neglect accounted for 60 percent of child abuse cases, while physical abuse accounted for 53 percent and sexual abuse accounted for 4 percent. The sum is greater than 100 percent because some children were victims of more than one type of maltreatment. Similar to the national statistics, the highest rate of abuse occurred during a child’s first year of life.
How can we work toward preventing child abuse?
Young recommends that we:
- Consider the different developmental stages:
- Prenatal: Educate parents to avoid illicit drug use to prevent in utero (in the womb) exposure
- Infant: Give parents anticipatory guidance about crying and sleeping patterns, and how to handle these stressful situations
- Toddler: Discuss appropriate supervision and discipline with caregivers
- School age: Educate children regarding personal safety and body boundaries
- Preadolescent: Discuss appropriate independence and how to handle peer pressures
- Adolescent: Discuss consequences of risk-taking behaviors, giving real life examples versus hypothetical repercussions
- Consider your location:
- In the community: Educate children about body safety and make them comfortable going to adults and telling them when something feels “off” or not quite right to them. Adults can act as external inhibitors to offenders by being more present in the community. If possible, do not drop children off at practice or the birthday party. Make your presence known to your child and would-be offenders.
- At home: Identify lack of parental/family support, mental health issues, and substance abuse to help decrease risk factors. With infants, it is important to teach parents proper parenting and nurturing skills in the setting where they will be most needed. Visiting nurse programs can be a helpful resource available to families.
- At school: Focus on teaching children not only how to protect themselves, but also how to prevent themselves from victimizing peers (via bullying, sexual harassment).
- On the internet: Teach children how to avoid being exploited via social media or text messages. It is important to talk to children about the effects of sending inappropriate photographs of themselves to others.
What are possible signs of child abuse?
Signs can include, but are not limited to:
- Bruises in infants or children who cannot crawl or walk on their own
- Behavioral issues at home and school, poor grades, regressed or sudden changes in behavior
- Inappropriate dress for the weather
- Abnormal gait or use of limbs
- Excuses to avoid going home or to a specific house, fear or avoidance of a particular person or family member
- Failure to thrive
- Poor hygiene
- Advanced sexual knowledge for their age and development
- Frequent school absences
Who do I contact to report concerns for abuse or neglect?
Know your resources! Go to https://dss.sc.gov and click the link “report abuse” to receive contact information for the Department of Social Services in your respective county.
Community health care providers who may have questions regarding a medical concern for abuse, a work-up, or a referral can call the Metropolitan Children’s Advocacy Center to speak to a Child Abuse Pediatrics medical provider on-call at 803-898-1470.