One of the most important strategies in eliminating child abuse is achieved by implementing measures of prevention. Children’s Bureau is wholeheartedly dedicated to this mission, and one of the primary ways of achieving our goals is through the variety of services and prevention programs we offer. These services have been created specifically to nurture children, strengthen family units and build a caring community to sustain healthy relationships. One of the largest investors in prevention in the United States, the Children’s Bureau mission is devoted to protecting vulnerable children through prevention, treatment, and advocacy. In this article, we’ll explore some common questions, facts and figures regarding this tragic national epidemic, including empowerment through education and other ways to get involved on a local and national level in the fight against child abuse.

Q: What Is Child Abuse Prevention?

A: According to Child Welfare Information Gateway, the term ‘prevention’ is defined as activities that stop an action or behavior, and may also be a terminology used to represent activities that promote a positive action or behavior. Research has shown that successful child abuse interventions are two-fold: they must reduce risk factors and promote protective factors to ensure the well-being of children and the families affected.

‘Protective factors’ are recognized as conditions in families and communities that, when present, promote the overall health and well-being of children and families. These attributes serve as buffers, assisting parents who may otherwise be at risk of abusing their children. Protective factors also help parents to locate and identify resources, support services, or coping strategies, enabling them to parent effectively, even under stressful circumstances.

Q: What Is The Importance Of Child Abuse Prevention?

A: According to a final report from the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities published in 2016, thousands of children die each year in the US at the hands of individuals who were supposed to provide them from protection from harm, including parents and caretakers. Such forms of abuse include inadequate medical care, neglect, starvation, unsafe co-sleeping, physical abuse, and other unthinkable acts.

For many years, the federal government has been aware of our country’s child abuse epidemic while finding ways to prevent abuse, neglect and fatalities. Although prior reports and commissions have brought the problem to the nation’s awareness and made targeted recommendations, the number of child abuse-related fatalities has not decreased. On the contrary, data submitted to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) between 2001 and 2010 indicates an increase in fatalities over the past decade. Leaders within the Children’s Bureau agree that this disturbing trend requires serious revisions, as a new child welfare system must be implemented in the 21st century to change these alarming statistics.

As research has proven, child abuse has an incredibly detrimental effect on every life it touches, with its impact often lasting a lifetime. Studies have shown that child maltreatment is associated with a wide array of negative mental and health-related outcomes that impact both the child and the family. However, its influences are far-reaching and go beyond the immediate family – it has also been shown to impact various systems, including mental and physical health, judicial and public social services, law enforcement, and non-profit agencies who respond to incidences and support the victims involved. Statistics have revealed that the immediate and long-term economic effects of child maltreatment may cost the nation as much as $258 million each day, or approximately $94 billion each year. However, despite the staggering financial costs, there is no way that a price tag can be put on the emotional cost of this irreversible behavior.

Knowing The Signs: How To Identify Child Maltreatment

One of the most crucial factors to combating the war against child abuse is education – by knowing how to identify the signs of child abuse, you are one step closer to assisting a child or family in need. As the old adage goes, knowledge is power, and there is a wealth of literature, factsheets, reference books and other informative resources available to you with regard to the different forms of child abuse.

Here are several general categories of child abuse listing the definitions, signs and symptoms, as well as links to informational fact sheets:

Neglect: Physical neglect is defined as the failure to provide for a child’s basic survival needs (e.g., nutrition, shelter, clothing, hygiene, medical care). The scope of physical neglect may also pertain to inadequate supervision of a child, as well as other forms of reckless disregard concerning the child’s overall safety and well-being.

Physical Abuse: The precise definition of child physical abuse varies among states, the District of Columbia, and the US territories. All these entities agree that physical abuse occurs when a parent or caregiver commits an act that results in physical injury to a child or adolescent, such as red marks, cuts, welts, bruises, muscle sprains, or broken bones, even if the injury was unintentional. Physical abuse can occur when physical punishment goes too far or a parent lashes out in anger. Even forms of physical punishment that do not result in physical injury are considered physical abuse and are outlawed in some states. For example, in Arkansas, Minnesota, and the District of Columbia, hitting a child with a closed fist is considered physical abuse. In Arkansas, hitting a child on the face or head is also called physical abuse.

Sexual Abuse: Child sexual abuse or molestation takes place when an adult, adolescent or another child, usually older or bigger than the victim, exposes the child to sexually oriented pictures or photos (pornography), initiates undesired touching with sexual overtones, or attempts intercourse, fellatio or cunnilingus, or voyeurism with the child victim, or using objects to penetrate an orifice of the child. Taking photos of the child for pornography is also molestation. As with other forms of abuse, it can be physical, emotional or verbal. It may leave no physical damage, although it definitely leaves emotional damage. When introduced to sex prematurely children are essentially robbed of their childhood years. 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys will be sexually abused before they reach age 18, so this is not an unusual problem. It is just a problem that makes us uncomfortable to talk about.

Emotional Abuse: The complexity of psychological maltreatment has made it difficult for experts and researchers to define. Risk for psychological maltreatment is greater for older children and children in low-income families. Perpetrators tend to be mothers and parents who have limited social and problem-solving skills or substance abuse problems. Children who have been psychologically maltreated often have social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Several intervention efforts have been developed to address psychological maltreatment behaviors categorized as exposure to interparental violence. Group therapy and multidisciplinary services have been effective in alleviating the impact of domestic violence on children and strengthening the skills of parents.

In addition, it is also important to understand the nature of child abuse; that is, having a deeper comprehension of the socioeconomic and psychological ramifications that are involved within the family unit and how these different factors can have a detrimental impact on those affected by child maltreatment.

In most instances of child abuse, there are usually a host of emotional, financial and other issues surrounding the circumstances. Research has indicated that the parents and families of children who die from abuse and/or neglect are frequently struggling and have backgrounds of trauma themselves, which may include drug addiction, previous criminal histories, mental illnesses, and cognitive disabilities. Other statistics indicate similar findings in families affected by child maltreatment, which may also include:

  •      Domestic violence in the home
  •      Residing in unsafe or crime-ridden communities
  •      Lack of financial resources
  •      Inconsistency in employment
  •      Housing instability

Furthermore, parents in such circumstances are often young and may have had past experiences within foster care or the juvenile justice system. In certain cases, parents may have recently been deployed from the military and struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although these forms of dysfunction are in no way to excuse abusive behaviors, they are important factors to consider when understanding the psychology behind this national crisis.

Getting Involved: Child Abuse Services & Prevention Programs

As outlined in this article, The Children’s Bureau provides many types of services and prevention programs developed to protect our country’s children and sustain our vision. Here are several of our prevention services, including a synopsis of each:

  • Magnolia Community Initiative: Magnolia Community Initiative is a national model for large-scale community transformation where all children living in a 500-block vulnerable community break all records of success in their education, health milestones, the nurturing and safe care they receive from their family, and the economic stability of their family. This is accomplished through a network that includes 70+ county, city and community organizations dedicated to improving outcomes for children in an area just southwest of downtown Los Angeles. Children’s Bureau is the founding spark and one of several sustaining backbone organizations. The Initiative’s key strategy is to build a social movement for community wellness within these neighborhoods; the innovative strategy goes beyond traditional direct service networks.
  • Family Resource Centers: A Family Resource Center (FRC) is a team of collaborating agencies working with parents and local businesses in one neighborhood facility to provide large numbers of high-risk families with comprehensive services and support. A primary FRC goal is to decrease isolation by connecting families with their community and providing services that strengthen family functioning. The combined efforts of Children’s Bureau and our partners, in sites located throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties, produce a wealth of services such as parent education, after-school activities, domestic violence counseling, counseling for kids, legal assistance, adult literacy and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes.
  • NuParent: NuParent is a unique parent education program with a curriculum that covers all of the ages and stages of a child, from birth to five years. It focuses on helping parents to become the “best parents they can be.” Parents participate with their children to enhance and improve both the learning and bonding processes. There is ongoing group support for parents through the NuParent Club. Additionally, agencies or organizations that provide parent education and development can partner with NuParent to use the NuParent program at their sites.
  • School Readiness: Serving children up to the age of five, Children’s Bureau’s school readiness programs use the Creative Curriculum, an extensively researched and validated learning model for preschool children that helps develop the skills and awareness needed to become successful, lifelong learners. Age-appropriate academics, such as the alphabet, colors, numbers, shapes, phonics, reading, math, and science are introduced within the curriculum. Kindergarten Readiness is offered at Children’s Bureau’s Wallis Annenberg Child Development Center at Magnolia Place and Oakwood School Readiness Center in Los Angeles.
  • Partnership for Families: Children’s Bureau is the lead agency for the Antelope Valley Partnership for Families. This collaborative is part of First 5 LA’s Partnership for Families Initiative, a groundbreaking child maltreatment prevention effort designed to create a network of partnerships between new and existing service agencies and groups that are coordinated, accessible and responsive to the needs of children and families residing in Los Angeles County.
  • Home Visiting Health Program: Offered in Orange County, this program educates families with newborns considered at-risk for abuse in the comfort of their own home. While instructors are in the home visiting, parent education takes place while the children are observed to ensure they are living in a safe and secure home. Families receive vital parent education, developmental screenings, health and safety education, insurance information and community resources. In-home parenting classes give families the tools and knowledge they need to ensure their children grow up healthy and safe. The home parent education Children’s Bureau offers is a vital resource that can turn an at-risk family into a successful one with thriving and successful children.

In addition, if you are seeking training materials that focus on the identification of child abuse and neglect, there are a variety of resources available within the following links: