By Leslyn Barrow, Housing and Human Services
April 2018 is National Child Abuse Awareness month. This year's theme, “Help Great Childhoods Happen,” encourages people to get involved with child abuse prevention with protective factors that reduce or eliminate risk and promote the social, emotional, and developmental well-being of children. You can help by taking part in activities like mentoring or babysitting for an overburdened family, advocating for family-friendly policies, or donating time or money to a child-serving organization.
Recognizing Child Abuse
Things to know
- Many people think child abuse is limited to physical harm. In reality, child abuse includes: physical abuse, physical neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional/mental maltreatment.
- Most child abuse and neglect is not a one-time event but usually occurs in a pattern over time.
- Many children are subject to more than one form of abuse.
Know the signs of abuse
These signs do not prove that a child is being abused, but they could be a signal that the child and his or her family need help.
- Some signs of physical abuse:
- Unexplained burns, bruises, black eyes, or other injuries.
- Apparent fear of a parent or caretaker.
- Faded bruises or healing injuries after missing school.
- Some signs of sexual abuse:
- Difficulty walking, sitting, or other indications of injury in the genital area.
- Sexual knowledge or behavior beyond what is normal for the child's age.
- Running away from home.
- Some signs of emotional abuse:
- Acting overly mature or immature for the child's age.
- Extreme changes in behavior.
- Delays in physical or emotional development.
- Attempted suicide.
- Lack of emotional attachment to a parent.
- Some signs of neglect:
- Missing school a lot.
- Begging for or stealing money or food.
- Lacking needed medical or dental care.
- Being frequently dirty.
- Using alcohol or other drugs.
Victims of abuse suffer - sometimes for life.
Abuse can cause low self-esteem, problems with relationships, or physical and mental health problems such as depression. Children who are abused may learn that violence is the way to "solve" problems.
How to Help if You See or Suspect Child Abuse
Everyone benefits when we work together to prevent child abuse or neglect. The children in our communities become happier and healthier. Families grow stronger and communities become more engaged places when members come together with a strengthened sense of belonging.
Be a nurturing parent.
Learn positive parenting skills. Discipline appropriately - and with love. Ask for help when you need it. Teach your children that they can come to you for help whenever they need it.
Be cautious when introducing your son or daughter to a love interest.
Move slowly before introducing your child to a love interest. The people who can hurt your son or daughter the most are often the adults who have easy access. Often it's someone your child knows and trusts.
Protect your child from abuse.
Teach your child how to protect him or herself from harm. Make sure your child knows how to stay safe in public places. Tell your child to say no, get away, and let you know right away if anyone tries to touch or hurt him or her. Abusers often tell their victims to keep it a "secret". Make sure your child understands that it's okay to tell these kinds of "secrets".
Be a neighbor, friend, and relative.
Reach out to families under stress. Offer to baby-sit when parents need a break. Help families connect with community resources.
Be a mentor to a child. Get involved with the local family resource center or parent support group.
If you suspect abuse - report it!
Reporting child abuse could save a life. Children die every day from injuries caused by child abuse. We each have the ability to help prevent this. Abusive families need help, so reported abuse can help connect families with counseling and services. This may help relieve a family’s stress and prevent future abuse.
If you are concerned about a child's well-being; want to report or discuss a possible abuse or neglect situation; or want advice, counseling, resources or help, please call Fairfax County's Child Protective Services Hotline 703-324-7400, TTY 703-222-9452. Your call is confidential.