The abuse and neglect of our children is one of the most gut-wrenching topics that our society has to deal with. Children, our most precious resource for the future and our most vulnerable group of people, deserve our protection. Actually, they deserve our constant and absolute efforts. The pandemic has undoubtedly added to the incidence of child abuse and neglect as noted by the American Academy of Pediatrics but unfortunately detection has decreased due to the isolation of families and remote learning. The support systems which are already fragile and, at times, painfully inadequate are even more strained now. It is incumbent on all of us to be attuned to the needs of children and families at risk and provide the necessary intervention. But prevention is the key!
There are so many ways that we can work together to make a difference.
- Enable our children to be honest about the circumstances in their life. Those at risk are often able to tell a trusted adult what is happening. We need to empower them and not neglect their appeal for help.
- Enable our families to have the resources that they need. Too many families do not have the resources that they need (adequate and stable housing, adequate nutrition, capable family support systems, and even computers and internet connections for example) to cope in today’s society. The lack of resources is a setup for enhanced stress and poor coping skills going forward.
- Enable our families to reach out for help. All too often families provide all of the signals that they need help, and we fall short in coming to their assistance.
- Educate our families about discipline. The word discipline comes from the root word disciple (to ‘teach’). Any activity to correct behavior that is not desired should be a teaching experience, not punishment. Punishment has unfortunately become a substitute for discipline and usually to the detriment of our children.
- Physical discipline (corporal punishment) should be considered unacceptable. It teaches children that is ok to strike someone when you are very upset and, by example, that form of behavior is often carried into adulthood as a parental discipline technique. Remember, not everyone that smokes will get cancer, but it sure increases your chances. Not everyone that receives corporal punishment will strike others in the future, but it sure increases your chances. And that is not fair to our children.
- Enable our professionals to report and intervene as necessary. Teachers and health care professionals are often in a position to observe various signs of abuse or neglect. They need to be educated about these signs and given the necessary tools going forward. This is hard work. We need to remember that usually we are not trying to “report” a family but rather to help a family that is in need. The skills (empathy, sincerity, humility and determination) involved in this work are critical to all involved and can help prevent a tragic outcome and make a positive difference.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has a variety of resources that are available.
The prevention of child abuse and neglect is the work of all of us. If we turn a blind eye to the problem, we all suffer. Providing nurturing environments and safe relationships requires us to accept this responsibility and engage in every way possible.