Child abuse is more common than we’d like to think, and it can happen to anyone. Even a small amount can cause a great deal of hurt and stick with a child for a long time. If child abuse is not dealt with promptly and thoroughly when it is discovered, it can scar the child for life and result in them not being able to live to their fullest.
Every year, around 3 million child abuse or neglect cases are reported, involving around 5.5 million children. Sadly, for children in the U.S. who are victims of abuse, the picture of a healthy childhood, without due intervention and restitution, is beyond reach. Child abuse chooses no status, religion or culture, and it’s inflicted in varying degrees. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to help a child who has been abused. At DECO, we want to make sure that they can get the help they need, no matter what.
What Is Child Abuse?
Child abuse is a wide spectrum of issues that all lead to some form of early-age trauma. It encompasses neglect and physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, so there’s no single definition that can truly describe it. It’s important to remember that every case is unique. If you find out about a case of abuse or neglect, you should find help for any children involved as soon as possible. This will increase their chances of recovering as soon as possible and growing up in a stable and safe environment.
A number of risk factors can contribute to child abuse. They include—but are not limited to—parental inability to properly care for children or understand their needs, familial history of domestic violence, substance abuse within the family, family violence and division, violence in the community and improper use of discipline.
Neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment for a child to undergo. It is characterized by a lack of care and provision being given to a child. This can include failure of a parent or guardian to provide for a child’s basic needs, from food to clothing to emotional and physical support. Signs of neglect in a child can include isolation, worn or inadequate clothing, large appetites, keeping extra food, lack of supervision and emotional instability. Neglect can result from a number of situations, from guardians simply being unable to care for their children to purposefully withholding provision.
28.3 percent of adults report experiencing physical abuse as a child. This kind of abuse can include hitting, kicking, pushing, restraining, smothering, forcing consumption of chemical or illegal substances, purposeful neglect or otherwise being overly aggressive towards a child. Signs of such abuse can include unexplainable cuts, bruises, burns and fractures. Children may be skittish or scared, have trouble sleeping, or have issues with bad dreams and bed-wetting. Children may not realize that they’ve been abused or neglected if patterns of harm and abuse are normal in their home or peer environment.
10.6 percent of adults report experiencing emotional abuse as a child. Emotional abuse can include verbal bullying, yelling, insulting, making negative comments, withholding praise and comfort and failing to provide for basic emotional and psychological needs. Signs of emotional abuse can include early onset depression/anxiety, rapid weight loss or gain, acting out against others and self-isolation. In many cases, it’s the result of bullying or neglect either from a peer or a guardian, or the exposure of the child to unhealthy emotional behaviors.
What to Do If You Discover Child Abuse
If you discover a case of child abuse or if a child confides in you, it’s important to do several things. First, listen to them and assure them that the abuse is not their fault. It takes courage, especially for a child who’s not used to trusting adults, to speak out about abuse. The child will likely be emotionally fragile, and you’ll need to provide comfort and encouragement to them. In essence, you’ll need to communicate that adults are meant to protect children, not harm them. You’ll need to reassure them that you’re going to make sure they stay safe. Give no indication that you don’t believe them or that you’re shocked, and don’t pressure them to share any more than they want to or interrogate them about specifics. Don’t use words that will make them afraid or that they don’t understand, such as “abuse” or “rape”. If these boundaries and reassurances are not established, the child might withdraw or become more distrustful, or even recant their abuse testimony.
The next step is to find help for the child. After you have reassured the child and ensured their safety, make sure they know you’re glad they said something to you, and before you contact the authorities about the problem, tell them that you have to report it (in many places, the law requires this). You can call or text the National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or call State Child Abuse and Neglect reporting numbers. You should also contact a local pediatrician or child protective agency.
How DECO Can Help
While some physical and psychological scars may never heal, with immediate intervention and the support of family and the community, the child may still be able to live a healthy and productive life. Once they feel safe, many children are able to overcome trauma through professional counseling. Aside from filing a lawsuit against the abuser, another form of restitution for the child is disability social security, or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) for children. The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides supplemental support to children who develop disabilities due to physical injury and psychological damage caused by abuse. As soon as they’re removed from the abusive environment, legal guardians may file on behalf of the children for their medical and personal needs, assuming that the trauma has in fact resulted in a disability based on SSA’s standards. DECO eligibility specialists can help ensure that they can get the assistance and proper treatment that they need and deserve. Contact DECO Recovery Management to learn more.