Consider this: the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that for one year of confirmed cases of child maltreatment (just the confirmed ones) the total lifetime cost is $124 billion, but may be as high as $585 billion.
That includes the cost of social work, police investigations, judicial costs, medical treatment, special education and productivity losses. We ALL pay exponentially for ignoring the issue and failing to protect children. So what can we do about this?
Step 1: Educate ourselves. Understand the factors that increase risk for physical abuse and neglect. The majority of physical abuse and neglect is perpetrated by the child’s parents or primary caregivers. The CDC has identified these factors associated with child maltreatment.·
Parental factors - lack of understanding child development and parenting skills, history of abuse, substance abuse, parental stress and depression.·
Family factors - social isolation, poverty, and domestic violence.·
Victim factors – 80 percent of child deaths involve children under the age of four, and children with disabilities are at an increased risk for abuse.
Step 2: Support families and children. We are a community - what affects one family affects the rest of us. Our proximity enables us to best help those around us. How? Know our neighbors and BE a neighbor.By definition, a neighbor is “a person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward his or her fellow humans.”Abuse is happening in our own town and we are either not aware or too afraid to report. If isolation and stress and are key factors in abuse, the solution is socialization and support. Talk, bring food, provide guidance and support to expecting and new parents.
Support charity, like your food pantry or donate maternity and infant items to a pregnancy center or family shelter. Praise and encourage children that we know. Abused children often suffer emotionally and feel trapped and alone in their pain; a supportive adult in their life can help relieve this burden and renew their faith in humanity and themselves.
Step 3: Learn the signs/symptoms of abuse and report any suspicion of child maltreatment. The Middlesex Children’s Advocacy Center‘s website (www.middlesexcac.org) has a link for free abuse detection training. Sexual abuse, however, which is estimated to affect one in four girls and one in six boys, requires a education and prevention efforts quite distinct from physical abuse and neglect.In more than 90 percent of cases, the abuser is known to the child/family and often in a position of trust — it can be an immediate or extended family but is also often someone connected to the family through the community, be it a teacher, care provider, coach, neighbor or family friend — and shockingly, as many as 40 percent of abusers are also juveniles.Adult education on identifying signs/symptoms of abuse, educating children on body safety, and taking steps to reducing opportunity are all essential in protecting children. Too many believe children should have the ability to protect themselves, or the courage to tell. It is simply not that easy. It is our job, as adults, to protect children - not theirs.