By Rebecca Stevens
Our community is painfully aware of the horror of child abuse. As Covid-19 continues to grip the region, April’s National Child Abuse Prevention Month takes on increased significance.
Families’ daily routines have been upended. Children remain home from school, and parents and guardians are also working from home or out of work, resulting in additional stress and anxiety. Based on prior experience during crisis situations, children could find themselves in vulnerable situations in the weeks ahead.
Educators, often on the front lines of the fight against child abuse, have less of an opportunity to recognize the signs of abuse with children no longer in school. Parents only report 12% of child abuse cases. Teachers, social workers, law enforcement and other professionals report the majority. So it’s more important than ever to raise awareness about the signs of abuse.
The CDC defines child abuse and neglect as any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or caregiver that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. Abuse comes in many different forms, including sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. It happens more often than you think.
Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S each year. One in 10 children in our community will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Ninety percent of these cases will go unreported. Erie County experiences the second-highest number of abuse and neglect cases in New York State.
A full list of signs a child is being physically or sexually abused, or neglected is available at cacbuffalo.org.
For children, they include difficulty sleeping, sudden changes in behavior, returning to bedwetting or thumb sucking, and writing or artwork that is unusually sexual.
In adults, the signs an adult may be committing abuse include insisting on uninterrupted time to be alone with a child; touching, hugging, or tickling even if the child resists; allowing a child to get away with inappropriate behavior; and being overly interested in a child’s physical or sexual development.
As part of the effort to prevent child abuse and raise awareness, the dedicated staff at the Child Advocacy Center at BestSelf recently planted 3,000 pinwheels on the lawn at 768 Delaware Ave., carefully observing all social distancing guidelines.
The 3,000 pinwheels – a national symbol for child abuse prevention – represent the number of children who will be cared for at our new CAC location, representing an increase of 60% in the number of children the agency can currently serve.
As a neighbor, caregiver, friend or family member, if you need additional information or notice signs a child may be in trouble, please contact us at 886-5437 or call Child Protective Services at 1-800-342-3720. Prevention starts with you. If you see something, say something.
Rebecca Stevens is director of the Child Advocacy Center at BestSelf Behavioral Health Inc.