We Must Talk About Child Abuse

By Mary Ann Raspberry, executive director of Union Smart Start
Excerpted from the April 7, 2010 Enquirer-Journal

Child abuse is a subject that is difficult to talk about, but it’s one that has to be talked about. And it is being talked about this month because April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Unfortunately, child abuse is a fact of life in many families.

Abuse and neglect often take place in the home and come from a person the child knows well – a parent, relative, babysitter or friend of the family. The emotional scars of all types of maltreatment are often deep and no child deserves to be maltreated.

Annually, more than 3.5 million children are reported to state and local child protective services agencies as victims of child abuse and neglect. Mirroring the nation, the number of reports of child abuse and neglect in North Carolina continues to rise, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. In 2008-2009, the state had 67,397 reports of abuse or neglect, up from 58,815 in fiscal year 1997-1998.

The impact of child maltreatment can be profound. Research shows that child maltreatment is associated with adverse health and mental health outcomes in children and families, and those negative effects can last a lifetime. The long-term effects can be physical, psychological or behavioral.

According to the government report, history of child abuse or neglect has been associated with increased risk of:

  • Mental illness
  • Substance abuse
  • Developmental disabilities and learning problems
  • Social problems with other children and with adults
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Lack of success in school
  • Alcohol and other drug use
  • Domestic violence

In addition to the impact on the child and family, child abuse and neglect affect medical and mental health, law enforcement, judicial, public social services and nonprofit agencies that respond to the incidents and provide support to the victim and family. One analysis of the immediate and long-term economic impact of child abuse and neglect suggests that child maltreatment costs the nation as much as $103.8 billion a year (in 2007 dollars), according to Prevent Child Abuse America.

Child abuse is not something we can or should ignore. We can all help prevent child abuse by recognizing the risk factors, protecting at-risk children and supporting families who are experiencing stressors. Each of us can – and should – play a part in creating safe homes and communities for children.

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