Child abuse is a concern in every community and crosses all racial, economic, and cultural lines. It is committed by both men and women, and sometimes even by young people themselves. Sadly, most often the abuser is a parent, family member, or someone with regular access to the child. Common stressors increase the risk of abuse and neglect. These stressors include: unemployment, divorce, family crisis, financial problems, substance abuse, untreated mental illness, poor parenting skills, and low self-esteem. Child abuse produces serious emotional harm and can leave lasting physical and mental scars on its victims. Abused children can develop a damaged sense of self which can impair their ability to function normally at home, school, and work; as well as hindering them from developing and maintaining healthy relationships throughout their lives.
Child abuse and neglect fall into four main categories, which are: physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse.
PHYSICAL CHILD ABUSE
Physical abuse involves physical harm or injury to the child, or a genuine threat of substantial harm or injury to the child.
Signs of physical abuse in children include:
Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts.
Injuries appear to have a pattern, such as marks from a belt or hand.
Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home.
Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days.
EMOTIONAL CHILD ABUSE
Emotional abuse is mental or emotional injury to a child that damages the child’s mental health or social development. Examples of emotional child abuse include:
Belittling, shaming, and humiliating a child.
Calling names and making negative comparisons to others.
Frequent yelling, threatening, or bullying.
Ignoring or rejecting a child as punishment.
Signs of emotional abuse in children include:
Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
Extremes in behavior, such as excessively passive or extremely aggressive.
Shows little attachment to parent or caregiver.
Acts inappropriately for his or her age.
Child neglect is a pattern of failing to provide for a child’s basic needs; such as food, clothing, shelter, hygiene, or supervision.
Signs of neglect in children include:
Clothes are ill-fitting, filthy, or inappropriate for the weather.
Consistently bad hygiene.
Frequently late or missing from school.
Is frequently unsupervised or left alone.
Untreated illnesses and physical injuries.
SEXUAL CHILD ABUSE
Sexual child abuse is sexual conduct harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare. Sexual abuse doesn’t always involve body contact. Exposing a child to sexual situations or material is considered abuse.
Signs of sexual abuse in children include:
Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age.
Trouble walking or sitting.
Strongly avoids a specific person without an obvious reason.
Runs away from home.
REPORTING CHILD ABUSE
If the situation is life-threatening, call 911. Otherwise, The Texas Abuse Hotline is 1-800-252-5400 and is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You may also file a report using a secure website: http://www.txabusehotline.org. Reporters are not expected to prove the abuse or neglect they report. When you make a report, be specific. Tell exactly what happened and when. Be sure to report all injuries or incidents you have observed, including dates and times of day. Reports of child abuse or neglect made in “good faith” and “without malice” are confidential and protected from civil liability.
The effects of child abuse and neglect are damaging and long-lasting, so stopping the cycle of abuse through prevention is vitally important. Prevention efforts involve educating and supporting families in need. These supports include: counseling, peer support, early development screening, parent education, child care and respite care, home visits, family resource centers, school-linked services, skills training, parent support groups, financial aid, and providing necessary medical care and testing.
Many of these kinds of supports and services are available in Blanco County and the surrounding areas.
The following entities are just a few of the great resources for families in and around Blanco County:
Blanco County Child Protection & Family Advocacy Board
Hill Country Children’s Advocacy Center (Burnet)
Stonewall Head Start
Texas Agrilife Extension Service (Blanco County)
Johnson City ISD
Johnson City Library
Johnson City Christian Food Pantry
There are endless ways in which to strengthen families and enrich the lives of children. Consider trying some of the following tips from www.childwelfare.gov.
Take a few minutes at the end of each day to connect with your children with a hug, a smile, a song, or a few minutes of listening and talking.
Find ways to engage your children while completing everyday tasks(meals, shopping, driving). Talk about what you are doing, ask them questions, or play simple games(such as “I Spy”).
Explore parenting questions with your family doctor, child’s teacher, family, or friends.
Subscribe to a magazine, website, or online newsletter about child development.
Take a parenting class at a local community center.
Sit and observe what your child can and cannot do.
Share what you learn with anyone who cares for your child.
Take quiet time to reenergize. Take a bath, a walk, write, sing, laugh, play.
Do some physical exercise.
Share your feelings with someone you trust.
Surround yourself with people who support you and make you feel good about yourself.
Join a playgroup of parents with children at similar ages.
Participate in neighborhood activities.
Provide regular routines, especially for young children.
Talk with your children about how important feelings are.
Teach and encourage children to solve problems in age-appropriate ways.
Take some time each day to lay a foundation of unconditional love and understanding for the children in your lives. Add to that foundation a framework of patience, knowledge, respect, structure, accountability, trust, and lots of encouragement and praise. Dry it in and top it off with peace and safety. Spend as much time as you can on this building project. Do your very best work and get help when it is needed. Because, after all, the “house” you are building is your own…. or possibly that of a friend or neighbor. We are all builders and we are all in this journey together, so let’s start building a better life for all of our children.