Matthew A Stelzer, MD

April 17th, 2017

Child Abuse Prevention

A young boy holding a blue pinwheel - April is National Child Abuse Awareness MonthChild abuse is not rare. Statistically, 1 in 8 children experience abuse or neglect by age 18 years. Our goal, as adults, is to protect children and help prevent abuse in our community. If you can recognize the signs and risk factors of abuse, be aware of children who are at risk and support families who are experiencing stressors, we can build a healthier community for our kids.

Identifying the Signs of Abuse
Common signs of abuse or neglect of a school-age child may include:

  • Irritability
  • poor academic performance
  • behavioral changes
  • withdrawal from friends, family or usual activities
  • fear of adults or caregivers
  • age inappropriate sexual behaviors
  • sleep problems
  • loss of self-confidence
  • poor hygiene
  • frequent absences from school
  • reluctance to go home
  • physical clues such as bruising or broken bones

Occasionally, a parent’s demeanor or behavior can send a red flag – showing little concern for the child, describing them with negative terms, blaming others for the child’s problems, using harsh physical discipline and/or severely limiting the child’s contact with others.

Keep in mind that warning signs are just that – signs. The presence of these signs does not necessarily mean a child is being abused.

Risk Factors
Researchers identify the risk factors that indicate an increased risk of abuse and neglect. When multiple factors are present, the risk is greater. Factors may include a history of child mistreatment, depression, marital or single parent conflicts, financial stress, substance abuse, domestic violence and a history of being mistreated as a child. Additionally, children with physical or developmental disabilities are at greater risk of being abused.

Well-intentioned parents may act out abusively toward a child if they lack a positive parenting role model, if they have unrealistic expectations for a child’s behavior, or if they often feel overwhelmed or out of control.

What we are seeing is that there is a tipping point where stress is triggering abusive episodes. In these moments, the key to prevention is to recognize stress before it results in abuse. If you are worried about potentially striking a child or infant, ask for help, call a trusted friend or neighbor and take a break.

Develop techniques for managing the responsibilities of parenting and daily life by signing up for parenting and stress management classes. Work to build a positive support group.

Supervise and be aware of your child’s whereabouts and interactions. Keep a watchful eye and do not leave young children home alone. Know which adults are spending time with your child. Teach your child about good touch and bad touch. Encourage and talk with your child so they are comfortable telling you about anything that makes them uneasy or distressed. Teach them to say no to any threatening or frightful situation. Monitor their online activities and discuss cyberspace ground rules. Abuse online is growing daily.

To help children in the community, we can reach out and meet families in our neighborhoods and schools. Take time to relieve a friend, neighbor or relative who is feeling overwhelmed. Regardless of whether or not you are a parent, you can help children by showing concern for a child’s wellbeing, volunteering and advocating for children.

All of us share an obligation to ensure the safety of the children in our community. If you are concerned that your child or another child has been abused, seek help immediately. Contact the local police department or call the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare at 208-239-6200 or 1-855-552-KIDS (5437). Together we can support and care for our children and our community.

The Pocatello Children and Adolescent Clinic believes that nothing is more rewarding than caring for children. We know that sometimes is can be exciting and at times challenging, we are here to help. To schedule an appointment call us at 208-232-1443.