Recognizing Child Abuse and Neglect

Before I begin this post, I want to acknowledge yet another random violent act in Boston, a tragedy for such a long-standing and popular event as the Boston Marathon. I have been writing about child abuse, and in this unprovoked attack, an eight-year-old child was brutally murdered by the bomb. I do send our thoughts and prayers to the families of all those who were killed or wounded. I also appreciate the many professionals and others who were unselfish and heroic in helping so many people to safety.

Recognizing the often hidden evidence of child abuse and neglect

Boston Marathon Bombing - Courtesy
Carried to safety in the Boston Marathon Bombing – photo courtesy of

The Boston bombing compels us to think about protecting our children and families. It keeps us vigilant about public events and what can possibly happen even in America. As our children witness such events, it is important for caregivers to be with them to alleviate their anxiety and answer key questions to help them feel safe.

Keeping children safe from threats in their world can be challenging.

Child abuse and neglect occurs in almost every aspect of our society. It can easily be hidden from friends and family members. Because the abuser is usually known by the family, it is important to know the signs of child abuse or neglect.

I will borrow from the Child Welfare Information Gateway sponsored by the United States Department of Health and Human Services to alert us to the signs of child abuse and neglect.

What to watch for regarding the child:

  • Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
  • Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention
  • Has learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
  • Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
  • Lacks adult supervision
  • Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn
  • Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home

What to watch for regarding the parent:

  • Shows little concern for the child
  • Denies the existence of—or blames the child for—the child’s problems in school or at home
  • Asks teachers or other caregivers to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves
  • Sees the child as entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome
  • Demands a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve
  • Looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of emotional needs

 What to watch for regarding the parent and child together:

  • Rarely touch or look at each other
  • Consider their relationship entirely negative
  • State that they do not like each other

Note that not everyone who shows one or more of these signs abuses children.

However, when we witness these signs, it is good to raise awareness and do what we can to protect children from the devastating physical, emotional and relational effects of child abuse. Knowing the signs can save a child and sometimes even the whole family from a great deal of heartache and crises.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

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