This post was submitted by Sarah.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This month and throughout the year, 5 Minutes for Mom encourages each and every one of you to play a role in making your community a better place for children and families. With the right knowledge, skills, and resources, we can help promote children’s social and emotional well-being and actually prevent child maltreatment within our families and communities.
If you’ve never been touched by the tragedy of child abuse, it can seem like it’s a distant issue that you can’t do anything about. However, as mothers, we are frequently with other children and parents in our communities. Part of how you can help make your community a better place is by learning the signs of child abuse and the appropriate ways to respond.
According to ChildWelfare.gov, here are some signs of child abuse to watch for.
- Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
- Has not received help for physical or medical problems
- Has learning problems or difficulty concentrating that cannot be attributed to specific causes
- Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
- Lacks adult supervision
- Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn
- Does not want to go home
- Shows little concern for the child
- Denies the existence of — or blames the child for the child’s problems in school or at home
- Asks teachers or other caregivers to use harsh, physical discipline if the child misbehaves
- Sees the child as entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome
- Demands a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve
- Looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of emotional needs
If after thoughtful observation, you believe a child in your community is being abused or neglected, DO NOT try to confront the parent or get involved. The very best thing you can do is report your suspicions to the appropriate professionals. You can contact your local child services agency or police department. Alternately, you can also call the Childhelp® National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD to get help with reporting and referrals.
Anybody who is troubled by signs of abuse can report suspected abuse, but if you professionally work with children, you are likely considered to be a “mandatory reporter,” meaning that you are legally obligated to report suspected signs of abuse. If you do not know whether or not you are a mandatory reporter, ask further questions at your place of employment.
Making That Phone Call
It can be scary to make that phone call. As a former teacher, I’ve had to make that call once before. My hands were shaking as I dialed the number. I was heartbroken for the child and nervous about how this intervention might further upset the child’s home life, but I knew that even beyond my legal obligation to report, I was doing the best thing I could do to help. I don’t know exactly what happened, and if you have to report a suspicion, chances are you won’t know either. But you can rest in the fact that you handed over an extraordinarily sensitive situation to the right people and that the child will get the help he or she might need.
Sometimes, though, these issues may be quite a bit closer to home. f you feel yourself getting out of control and like you might hurt your child or react inappropriately, get help. In the moment, it is okay to step away from the situation to compose yourself. Ensure your child is in a safe place for his or her age — a crib or playpen, as an example for young children — and go to another room to calm yourself down.
If these feelings happen often, don’t be afraid to open up and get support. It may be as simple as asking a friend or family member to babysit so you can recharge, or it may be as serious as seeking the help of a counselor or pastor. In either case, managing your stress effectively keeps you and your family happy and healthy. After all, you can’t help others with their oxygen masks if you haven’t put yours on first.
For more information about child abuse and neglect or Child Abuse Prevention Month, visit ChildWelfare.gov.
Sarah is a pastor’s wife, new mom, and blogger in South Florida. Sarah writes at sarahoutloud.com to tell stories about life and motherhood, to keep up with family, and just for the love of words. When not changing diapers or elbow deep in pureeing baby food, you can often find her at her local coffeeshop or with her nose in her e-reader. You can also keep up with Sarah on Twitter.