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CATES: National Child Abuse Prevention Month - Odessa American: People

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CATES: National Child Abuse Prevention Month

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Posted: Monday, April 20, 2020 4:00 am

I was a very sheltered child. I can truthfully say I won the parent lottery. I was raised by people who believed that we were put on this earth to make a difference for others.

My parents were strict, but they were never abusive. It came as a real shock to me when I went away to college and learned that not everyone had parents like mine. I knew child abuse existed, but it was an abstract thing — it wasn’t real.

College taught me that abuse was real, but in many ways it was still abstract. I had friends in college who were mental and physical survivors of abuse. I had seen scars, but not the wounds. When I started working in the Emergency Department (ED) as a nurse, I got to see the actual mental and physical wounds abuse causes, and I saw victims who did not survive those mental and/or physical wounds. I also saw those things much more frequently than I ever expected. In the ED, I learned not only is abuse a very real thing, it is far too common a thing.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Child abuse prevention is important every month and every year, but this year in particular, I think all of us need to be particularly aware of child abuse prevention.

The reason I say that is because of the coronavirus pandemic. One of the side effects experts are worried about with social distancing and school closures is an increase in child abuse.

TexProtects, a child advocacy organization here in Texas, states that any type of crisis can put children at increased for abuse and neglect. The coronavirus pandemic is especially concerning because not only are parents put under stress with stay-at-home orders and kids not in schools or daycares, but also because of the financial stresses the economic downturn has caused in many households as well.

Reports of child abuse nationally have declined significantly. Here in Texas, reports dropped by more than 50 percent in the last two weeks of March.

Experts worry the lack of reporting is not a sign of lack of abuse, but is reflective of kids not being seen by people who are trained to recognize and required by law to report signs of abuse: teachers, coaches, daycare providers, health care professionals, and social workers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in seven children has experienced child abuse or neglect in the last year.

The coronavirus pandemic is unlikely to make that statistic better. Europol has seen an increase in online child sexual exploitation since the lockdowns started in Europe.

Here in the U.S., the FBI has warned that school closings could lead to more time on the internet for children, thus raising their risk for abuse and exploitation.

UNICEF’s Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action has published a document regarding the protection of children during the coronavirus pandemic. This document lists multiple risks for kids in this pandemic, none of which have anything to do with the virus directly: physical and emotional maltreatment, sexual exploration, mental health and psychosocial distress, child labor, unaccompanied and separated children, social exclusion, and lack of access to resources to detect and prevent child abuse.

Some signs of abuse or neglect in children are: sudden changes in behavior or school performance; not receiving help for medical problems brought to the parents’ attention; learning problems that cannot be attributed to specific causes; the child is always watchful as if preparing for something bad to happen; lack of adult supervision; the child is overly compliant; and the child does not want to go home.

Abusive parents tend to show little concern for the child, blame the child for problems, ask teachers and other caregivers to harshly discipline the child for any misbehavior, see the child as bad, worthless, or burdensome, place demands on the child which are unachievable, and look to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of the parent’s emotional needs.

If you see these things or other behaviors that make you suspect a child is being abused, please contact Texas Department of Family and Protective Services by phone at 1-800-252-5400, or online at https://www.txabusehotline.org/Login/Default.aspx.

If you are a parent and need resources on how to protect your family during this challenging time, Strong and Thriving Families has great information on their website: https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/preventionmonth/. Prevent Child Abuse America reminds us the best way to safeguard our family is to continue to stay connected with the outside world even while we are physically apart. They also have great guidelines to reducing stress as we are social distancing on their website: https://preventchildabuse.org/coronavirus-resources/.

Don’t let the coronavirus pandemic take even more victims. Please do everything you can during this very stressful time to prevent child abuse and increase awareness about child abuse prevention.

Odessa, TX

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