This April in America, we take an annual observance to raise awareness of childhood abuse around the country and also — a promise to prevent it. Whether we’re donating our time as an advocate or sharing our ideas with those around us, we can all play pivotal roles in doing something that enhances the lives of children everywhere.

Healthy childhood development means a successful and engaged community. It means children who don’t have to be familiar with the devastating aspects of life like abuse and neglect — the things that potentially prevent them from developing into happy adults worthy of thriving.

Founded in 1972, the national nonprofit Prevent Child Abuse America is an organization with chapters in all 50 states. This April 2018, they’re building on the success of last year’s abuse prevention campaign while they work to deepen their message. This year’s theme is “Help Great Childhoods Happen.”

Within this idea of helping to make great childhoods happen, there are three components of the theme (as noted on their site).

Help Great Childhoods Happen Digital Campaign: Throughout April, they will demonstrate how we can support great childhoods while promoting 30 things we should know to help make these sort of amazing childhoods happen.

Wear Blue Day: On Friday, April 6th, organizations and people around the U.S. can come together to make a commitment to preventing child abuse nationwide by wearing blue.

Pinwheels & Pinwheel Gardens:  The pinwheel was introduced as the national symbol for child abuse prevention through Pinwheels for Prevention®. The pinwheel serves as the national symbol of great childhoods. During April, Prevent Child Abuse America will plant pinwheel gardens to honor children of communities nationwide.

Maybe you’re a volunteer, a coach, a teacher — someone ready and willing to know how to look for the signs of abuse among children and be able to prevent it. Today is the perfect time to learn more and to work alongside the advocates striving every day to prevent child abuse and neglect everywhere.

With the help of necessary resources, we can come together to create nurturing environments, to understand the epidemic of child abuse, and to prevent the problem before it even begins.

History of Child Abuse Prevention Month

The first federal piece of legislation to protect children from abuse was the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), passed in 1974.

In the early 1980s, Congress — recognizing the rate that children continued to be neglected — made a commitment to implement various solutions to childhood abuse. According to Children’s Assessment Center Houston the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives designated the week of June 6-12, 1982 as the first National Child Abuse Prevention Week. Shortly thereafter in 1983, the first National Child Abuse Prevention Month was designated in April. Government agencies and the public were asked to observe the week with ceremonies and activities to promote healthy, strong families through community support.

The Children’s Assessment Center Houston also writes that in 1989, the Blue Ribbon Campaign to Prevent Child Abuse began as a Virginia grandmother’s tribute to her grandson. Her grandson died as a result of abuse, so she tied a blue ribbon to her car to bring child abuse awareness to her community. Since that day, this campaign has taken flight across the county. And in April, people nationwide wear ribbons in memory of those who have passed away due to childhood violence.

In communities today, fundraisers or candlelight vigils are held as a way to remember and honor the positive messages shared by the communities who work to end child abuse and neglect.

According to the CAC Houston, in 2004 national child abuse organizations and related federal agencies agreed to engage public efforts in strengthening and supporting families and enhancing parenting skills. “Building on this national momentum, OCAN [Office of Child Abuse and Neglect] shifted the focus of its child abuse prevention resources to incorporate a family strengthening message promoting parenting and community support,” they stated. Today, the Child Abuse Prevention Initiative offers an opportunity for committees to support families, raise happy children, and keep them safe and secure.

In 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama continued that tradition of National Childhood Abuse Prevention month with a proclamation that stated, “During National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we recommit to giving every child a chance to succeed and to ensuring that every child grows up in a safe, stable, and nurturing environment that is free from abuse and neglect.”

How People Can Get Involved

Research today shows that people nationwide are taking a prominent role in preventing child abuse. A study by Prevent Child Abuse America shows that 80% of Americans reporting donating goods, money or time to an organization that supports children and families. 70% of Americans reported volunteering with children through places of schools, sports clubs, and more. 56% provided mentorship to a child in their community, their family, or their neighborhood.

97% of adults have even said they would take action on behalf of children, they just aren’t quite sure how to do it.

Many people today are already doing their part to play a role in the healthy development of kids. Prevent Child Abuse America is “encouraging the public to learn more about how three specific actions. These actions involve mentoring children and parents, advocating for family-friendly policies, and donating time and money to help prevent child abuse nationwide.”

Furthermore, Prevent Child Abuse America provides additional suggestions for how people can get involved in addition to the ideas mentioned in the introduction. These involvement ideas include:

  • Volunteering to staff an after-school program like a sports or academic team.
  • Mentoring a new parent by reaching out to your neighbor and offering to help, such as babysitting or cooking.
  • Advocating for federal and state policies that support children and families, such as home visiting programs and paid family medical leave.
  • Learning about abuse prevention curricula in place at local schools or churches and advocating to create one if there is not yet a program in place.
  • Donating time to organizations that support children, such as offering to be a free tutor or getting involved with a local mentorship program.
  • Donating money to organizations that fight for children and families such as a local Prevent Child Abuse America state chapter.

The site also provides a template for people looking to get involved at the local or statewide level. The template seen in Prevent Child Abuse America’s guidebook is a letter to the editor. It can be applied to local publications or larger publications, and at roughly 300 words, it serves to describe April as Child Abuse Prevention Month and encourages people everywhere to join the writer and stand up for the future of children in the writer’s state.

The guidebook also includes social media tips for the month, like attaching images to posts and including a call-to-action which will encourage your audience to connect with your post.

They encourage readers to take away messages from their own research and adapt them to fit within your own campaign. These messages include uplifting and inspirational ideas like, “April is Child Abuse Prevention Month; it is a time to celebrate the good things our communities do to promote healthy child development, as well as a time to reflect on the work that still remains” and, “We all have a role to play in healthy child development, and our goal this April is to help others recognize that role and the ways in which we can maximize our impact.”

In addition, Prevent Child Abuse America mentions Five Protective Factors that might serve to help parents who are at risk for abusing their children.  

  • Parental Resilience
  • Social Connections
  • Concrete Support in Times of Need
  • Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development
  • Social and Emotional Competence of Children

By understanding these factors, communities can work together to implement strength within communities. From sports to support groups, protective factors make an impact and help to encourage the presence of positivity in a child’s life.

Know the Signs

According to the Joyful Heart Foundation child protective services referrals involve 7.2 million children each year. They state that a report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds. 91% of the abuse perpetrators are parents.  And in the U.S., 4 to 5 children die every day from child abuse or neglect.

Although the topic is difficult, it’s crucial to know the signs of abuse so we can work together as a society and help to prevent it.

The foundation notes that child abuse “are acts that result in serious harm or risk of harm” which include physical violence, exploitation, and death. They further state that failing to take action to stop the harm is also considered child abuse. They define child neglect as “the failure to provide a child’s basic needs” —which ranges from providing clean clothing to medical care.

The effects of childhood abuse and neglect range in the responses of children who have experienced abuse. Some children have lifelong trauma and lasting effects — whereas others are able to recover more quickly.

Joyful Heart Foundation notes various factors that can influence children’s responses to trauma.

These factors include age, developmental status, types of abuse and/or neglect, how long the child has been abused, how severe the abuse was, and the relationship between the child and perpetrator.

So far as the physical signs and effects they note bruises and welts, scrapes and cuts, burn marks, head trauma, weakened brain development, sprains or broken bones, difficulty walking or sitting, torn, stained, or bloody clothing, poor hygiene and more.

Psychological and mental effects include anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, withdrawn, dissociation, difficulty with making and maintaining relationships, experience with flashbacks and persistent fear.

Behavioral effects noted are self-harm, eating disorders, alcohol and drug use, trouble sleeping, uncomfortable with physical contact with others, repeating school grades, absent from school often, and criminal activity.

The Foundation states, “Perpetrators often convince and manipulate children to lie or be silent about their abuse, which can make it hard to recognize signs of child abuse and neglect.”

Children can appear confused, ashamed, or guilty — all of which can make them feel isolated or alone.

What we can do as a whole if we notice any of the signs mentioned above (physical, psychological, or behavioral) is to monitor the situation.

If we can recognize the signs, we can work together to help prevent the abuse and neglect from happening. By bringing together businesses of the community, neighbors, schools, families, and friends — we can work together to make a massive impact on the lives of children across the nation. We can promote safety and awareness and help to prevent abuse from happening.

We can keep our children happy through mentoring in the community — whether that means coaching in a sport’s league or going the extra mile to volunteer at local schools or connect with families in the neighborhood.

Together, we can be advocates for children by contacting our elected officials to let them know that we are supporters of programs that help to prevent child abuse and neglect.

This April, whether you’re wearing blue, supporting the cause through the outlets of social media, or planting your very own pinwheel garden in your front yard — you are making a difference.

So many sorts of great societal change can happen at the local level. So start where you are with what you have — and know that you, individually, are making a difference. Your influence matters in the lives of children around the country and around your community.

From all of us at Children’s Bureau — thank you for doing what you can to make our world a beautiful and better place.

We look forward to celebrating Child Abuse Prevention Month with you this April 2018.