April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and to shed a little light on the topic, we spoke with parenting and family law expert Notoya Green on common misconceptions, current statistics and what to do if you suspect child abuse. Here’s what she had to say:
Tell us a little bit about your experience as it relates to child abuse and raising awareness of it.
Growing up I had the misfortune of witnessing a few situations involving loved ones that were very unhealthy. As an adult, I became a lawyer specializing in family law and privilege of working for New York City’s Administration for Children Services, where I litigated cases against parents who had been accused of abusing and/or neglecting their kids. I gained a lot of insight on child abuse through this experience. Now as a mother, blogger and writer, I write a lot about healthy parenting and the effects of abuse and/or neglect on children.
What are the latest child abuse statistics that Americans need to know?
According to recent data, about 2.9 million cases of child abuse are reported annually in the United States. The youngest children are the most vulnerable to maltreatment. More than 25 percent of abused children are younger than age 3 years. More than 45 percent of abused children are younger than age 5. (Source)
What is the most common misunderstanding about child abuse that you hear?
A common misconception is that people often think child abuse only happens to kids from single parent households or less affluent households. It’s important to know that abuse can occur in a number of ways. There is sexual abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse and emotional abuse. All of these types of abuses run the gamut and cut across all lines, wealth, race, family make up, etc.
What are the most common warning signs that may indicate abuse is taking place?
Warning signs may vary depending on the type of abuse. Signs of sexual abuse may be different from physical abuse. Bedwetting is one sign that could indicate either physical abuse or sexual abuse or both. Another sign to be aware of is when a child never wants to go home. In the case of sexual abuse, other common signs include a sudden change in the child’s behavior or performance in school, or if the child has sexual knowledge that doesn’t seem to be developmentally appropriate. In the case of physical abuse, a child may seem jumpy or anxious or be frequently absent from school.
What are some lesser known or more surprising signs that abuse may be taking place?
People may not recognize signs of abuse in children who seem really tough, aggressive or who act out toward others. Often times, their aggression or “acting out” is because they are being abused at home. More uncommon signs include kids who hoard food or who are oddly dressed such as wearing long sleeves during warm seasons.
Who are the most common abusers?
In the case of sexual abuse, men are typically the perpetrators. In the case of physical abuse, the child’s mother is often the perpetrator.
What is the most common age bracket in which child abuse takes place?
In the case of sexual abuse, it varies with age. In the case of physical abuse, the most vulnerable time in a child’s life is from birth until 2 years old. Roughly 70 percent of children who die because of abuse or neglect are younger than 3 years of age. (Source)
What is the worst case of abuse you have ever seen or learned about?
The worst cases for me have been those involving sexual abuse of young children, when the child’s mother is aware of the abuse but fails to protect the child. I’ve always found those cases difficult to understand.
If someone suspects abuse may be taking place, what steps should they take?
If someone suspects a child is being abused, say something. You can report — often anonymously — to your state abuse hotline. Following the report, a caseworker will visit the family and conduct an investigation. People are sometimes afraid to report child abuse for a variety of reasons, but keep in mind that it can save a child’s life. It can also help a family that may be in need of counseling, drug treatment or help with anger management, all of which are provided for free to help keep families in together.
April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month. If you could use this platform to get out one crucial message on the topic, what would that message be?
Child abuse is pervasive, and it destroys lives. Many children are killed, and survivors are often left with physical and emotional scars of abuse. If you suspect child abuse, report it. Children can’t stand up for themselves so it is up to us to help them.
Thank you to Notoya Green for sharing her experience and expertise with dailyparent.com readers. To learn more about what you can do to help stop child abuse, visit childwelfare.gov.