April is Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention month and I thought it would be appropriate to spend some time talking about the different forms, preventions and coping skills association with this growing situation.
Although this isn't a popular topic to many, it is important that we are aware that this is happening all around us and we have to remain diligent in reporting it and preventing it as well.
Child abuse takes on many different forms, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. A child who is being abused may feel guilty, ashamed or confused. He or she may be afraid to tell anyone about the abuse, especially if the abuser is a parent or other loved one.
Many red flags are visible regarding all of these forms and it is important that we be aware of such things as:
• Sudden changes in behavior.
• Untreated medical issues or dental problems.
• Bruises, cuts, burns or other injuries.
• Inappropriate behavior for a child's age.
• Low self esteem.
• Poor hygiene.
• Frequent absences.
Sometimes a parent's behavior also sends out red flags about child abuse, and it's important that we are aware of this, too. Warning signs may include:
• Little concern for the child.
• Blaming the child for problems at school or at home. Berates and continually belittles the child.
• Offers conflicting stories to the child's injuries or no explanation at all.
Keep in mind that warning signs are just that. The presence of warning signs doesn't mean that a child is being abused.
Some simple steps to protect your child from exploitation and child abuse as well as abuse in your neighborhood or community:
• Offer love and attention. If you feel overwhelmed or out of control, take a break. Don't take your anger out on you child.
• Think supervision. Don't leave children home alone. In public, keep an eye out for them and don't allow them to accept anything or go anywhere without your permission.
• Emphasize the importance of saying "no." Make sure your child understands that they don't have to do something that seems scary or uncomfortable. Leave a threatening situation immediately and seek help from a trusted adult. Tell them that It's OK to talk about it and that they won't get in trouble.
• The internet is a wonderful tool. However, it is important to use it safely. Many predators use the Internet to entice a victim. Cover ground rules with your children such as not sharing personal information and not responding to inappropriate, hurtful or frightening messages. Don't allow your children to share photos, videos or arrange to meet an online contact. Consider it a red flag if your child is secretive about his or her online activities.
• Reach out and attempt to help. If you see a family member, friend or neighbor who may be struggling, offer to baby-sit or help in another way. If you are concerned that your child may be abused or that you may be needing help yourself, seek help immediately. Make the call for intervention either to a friend, social services or law enforcement as they can directly help you or assist in getting you the help you and your family may need.
Children are our future and we should do what is right in reporting these types of situations as well as preventing them before they happen.
TODD DAHL is Crow Wing County sheriff.
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