April is National Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month. National statistics say 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before his or her 18th birthday, so the likelihood of knowing a child or adult who has been victimized is high. As adults, it’s our obligation to recognize potential signs of abuse and take an active role in preventing, responding and reporting suspicion of abuse.
Oftentimes, there are no physical signs of abuse or neglect; however, the most recognizable signs are changes in the child. Some signs may include but are not limited to:
• unexplained injuries, which may include cuts, burns, and/or bruises in a pattern or shape;
• anxious, depressed, aggressive or withdrawn behavior exhibited by a child;
• the regression of earlier behaviors that may be exhibited by thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, etc.;
• the expression of fear of going to the place in which the abuse may be occurring such as home, school, church, etc.;
• a change in the child’s sleep patterns, frequent nightmares or the increase of fatigue;
• a change in performance and attendance at school;
• a marked change in personal care or hygiene; and
• a display of inappropriate sexual behaviors.
Sometimes, children are reluctant to disclose their abuse, and as adults, we may struggle with ways to talk with our children about abuse. But it’s important to start when they are young.
Talk with children about their bodies and feelings early on. Empower the child to claim ownership of their body and feelings. Teach children that people should treat their body and feelings with respect, which means no one has the right to hurt them or make them or their body feel uncomfortable in any way. Likewise, children are to respect other peoples’ bodies and feelings.
Then, we as adults must be prepared to listen. Open the lines of communication, eliminate distractions and create a safe space for your child to talk. Remember, children are learning to navigate this world, and as adults it’s our job to be a positive sounding board and mentor, encouraging safety, growth and understanding.
When a child brings their problems to you, thank them for telling you and talk with them about how you can work together to solve it. If you become aware or suspicious of child abuse when talking with your child, it’s vital to report your concerns immediately so trained professionals can begin to ensure the child’s safety and investigate. Reports can be made to ChildLine at 800-932-0313, children and youth services, or local law enforcement.
Our theme for this month is “Pinwheels for Prevention.” Pinwheels signify hope, energy and joy, and the recognition that all children deserve a safe and healthy childhood. This month, we’re encouraging community members to purchase a pinwheel to display at their home or business to show support for children and the cause that pinwheels represent.
Pinwheels can be purchased and picked up through The Foundation for Mount Nittany Health by visiting give.mountnittany.org/pinwheels, or by calling The Foundation at 234-6777. All of the proceeds from the pinwheels will benefit the Children’s Advocacy Center of Centre County, Mount Nittany Health.