We Can Work Together to Prevent Child Abuse

By Davi Stein-Kiley, Courier & Press, April 28, 2015 –

Ronny was 14 years old when he and his mother appeared at my door. His mother described an incident that had occurred while Ronny was in the dressing room of a gym. An older man had exposed himself to Ronny.

Ronny was “freaked out” and didn’t know what to do. Only after the same man had exposed himself on four or five more occasions did Ronny finally talk to his mom.

Brittany came to counseling as a 24-year old woman. She was trying to understand why certain sounds and smells created dire panic attacks for her. Brittany had been neglected as a small child (left in her crib, unfed and later left outside the home). Scared and isolated, she had to contend with distress and the distrust of others for many years.

April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month. Abuse and neglect take on many forms. It seems intuitive that child abuse is a “bad thing,” but just how bad are we talking?

According to Prevent Child Abuse Indiana (PCAIN), during 2012 there were 177,382 reports of child abuse and neglect statewide with 20,008 substantiations. (Substantiation means that an investigation took place and the allegation was determined to be true.) Of the substantiated cases, 74 percent were related to neglect, 16 percent from sexual abuse and the remaining 10 percent from physical abuse.

In 2012 the Department of Child Services’ Annual Child Fatality Report reviewed 34 child fatalities that were substantiated for abuse or neglect. Of the deaths reported, 44 percent were due to abuse and 56 percent were due to neglect. Sixty percent of these children were age one or younger. Unfortunately, this trend indicates that young children are at the highest risk of abuse and neglect.

Bessel Van der Kolk’s influential research is steering the conversation that surrounds traumatic life events and how they impact victims. His book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” discusses research efforts toward understanding how the brain is rewired to respond when there is repeated developmental trauma.

Brain changes create long-term consequences rendering fight, flight or freeze responses to sensory cues that are often hidden or unpredictable. The brain over-responds, sensing danger in too many places, triggering overreactions and emotional dysregulation. These responses are often hard to understand and may be viewed as dramatic and/or attention seeking.

According to the Children’s Bureau, each year nearly three million U.S. children experience some form of abuse or maltreatment. This maltreatment is largely perpetrated by a family member or adult caregiver in the child’s life. The American Academy of Pediatrics has noted that psychological maltreatment is the “most challenging and prevalent form” of child abuse and neglect.

Psychological maltreatment involves both emotional abuse and emotional neglect and is the chronic pattern of ignoring a child’s basic emotional needs. When needs go unmet, neglect conveys to the child that he/she is worthless, unloved or unwanted.

We can do better on behalf of our youth and our future. Prevent Child Abuse has a slogan: “No one can do everything. But everyone can do something. And together, we can do anything. Together, we can prevent child abuse!”

Are you concerned about a child you know? For more information, go to pcain.org. Contact the Child Protective Services (CPS) 24-hour hotline at 1-800-800-5556 to report suspected cases of abuse or neglect.

Davi Stein-Kiley is director of social work for Youth First, Inc., a regional nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening youth and families. Learn more by visiting youthfirstinc.org or calling 812-421-8336.