More Than a Bruise? How to Stop Child Abuse and Neglect

20 Nov
What do you think of when you think of an abused child? The quintessential child with a black eye usually appears in everyone’s mind when asked this question. And yes, while physical abuse is child abuse, it is not the only form of abuse that a child could suffer from. All types of abuse or neglect leave marks, and some of these marks may be physical and some may be emotional—but both can have long lasting effects in a child’s life. By understanding what types of abuse there are, you may be able to recognize these marks and get these children the help they deserve.
Contrary to some beliefs, words can hurt—and when directed at a child, emotional abuse can severely damage a child’s mental health or social development. Children experiencing emotional abuse may seem excessively withdrawn, fearful or anxious about doing something wrong. Children experiencing this form of abuse can also show extreme behaviors, from being aggressive, demanding and extremely compliant.
Another very common type of child abuse is child neglect. This is defined as a pattern of failing to provide a child with basic needs, whether it be adequate food, clothing, hygiene or supervision. This form of abuse is not always easy to spot, however there are signs you can look for. Children experiencing this form of abuse can appear to have bad hygiene, their clothes can be ill-fitting or inappropriate for the weather. Children may also have untreated illnesses or physical injuries.
Physical abuse involves the physical harm or injury to a child. Children experiencing physical abuse will have frequent injuries and unexplained bruises, welts or cuts. When not visible, these injuries may be covered by inappropriate clothing—such as a child who is wearing a long-sleeved shirt on a hot day. These children may also shy away from touch, flinch at sudden movements, appear afraid to go home, and they may always be watchful or “on alert” as if they are waiting for something to happen to them.
Sexual abuse is a very complicated form of abuse. Sexual abuse doesn’t necessarily involve body contact. For example, a child may be experiencing sexual abuse by being exposed to sexual situations or materials that are sexually abusive, Children experiencing this form of abuse display knowledge of sexual acts well past their age level, and may even exhibit seductive behavior. These children may also make strong efforts to a specific person or run away from their home.
Understand, regardless of the type of abuse, the result is serious harm. There are ways to help and it is normal to have some reservations or worries about reporting child abuse. If you suspect a child is being abused, it is critical that you report it—and continue to report each incident of abuse that occurs after the first report. It may seem daunting and it may seem like your reports are not making a difference, but what you must remember is that every report you make—you are creating a snapshot of what is going on in the family. This will allow child welfare workers to better understand how to help the child. And remember, the more information you can provide, the better chance you are giving to that child in getting the help they deserve.