April is Child Abuse Prevention MonthIn 1983, Congress designated April as Child Abuse Prevention Month, encouraging the communities of the United States to promote activities that enhance the safety and wellbeing of children.
By: Katie Bystrom, The Republican Eagle
In 1983, Congress designated April as Child Abuse Prevention Month, encouraging the communities of the United States to promote activities that enhance the safety and wellbeing of children.
Unfortunately, child abuse — which is categorized as physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect — continues and is often unrecognized.
In 2011, Goodhue County Social Services received 186 reports of child abuse, 86 of which met the statutory definition of abuse and were assessed by child protection social workers with the support of law enforcement agencies.
Minnesota law provides two options for assessment, one being family assessment.
In a family assessment, law enforcement is notified and able to review the report. A child protection social worker meets with family members to discuss the report, evaluate the safety of children and develop a plan to prevent future abuse.
A family assessment provides an opportunity to educate families about discipline, child development, anger management, chemical health and resources that are available. Researchers found that when a family was able to identify their strengths and confront their weaknesses, they were more likely to engage in services and not repeat abusive behavior.
Of the reports of child abuse that were assessed in 2011, 71 percent were completed using a family assessment.
Sometimes, however, a family assessment is not appropriate. Reports of sexual abuse, egregious harm or criminal endangerment require a traditional investigation.
In such cases, a social worker and a law enforcement investigator work together to collect information by conducting recorded interviews with the child, their caregivers, siblings and the alleged perpetrator. The information is reviewed by the child protection unit to determine whether there is a preponderance of evidence that abuse occurred.
A preponderance of evidence is a lesser threshold than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in a court of law but still requires that the evidence collected would lead most people to say that the action was abusive.
Child abuse is often unrecognized because it occurs in a private setting — a family’s home. It is unrecognized because the victims are children who don’t know that what happens to them is not supposed to happen or that it doesn’t happen to every child.
Children enduring abuse — especially at the hands of someone that they rely on for their basic needs, someone they trust and someone they love — are especially vulnerable. Child victims have many worries: Will people believe me? Will I get in trouble for letting it happen? Will my friends still like me? Will my family still love me?
A child victim coming to a parent, a grandparent, teacher or family friend does not have the luxury of knowing that their abuser will confess or has confessed. The child victim does not have the reassurance that a court of law will convict their abuser.
When a child makes a statement that is confusing or worrisome, it is the responsibility of the adults surrounding that child to sort out what happened and make sure the child is safe.
As we prepare for Child Abuse Prevention Month, we are given the opportunity to consider what we can do to enhance the safety and wellbeing of children.
In Goodhue County, every school district offers early childhood family education, which helps parents understand what to expect during the early years of child development, learn about discipline and recognize developmental concerns or delays.
“Mindful Parenting” is being offered in Red Wing. Sessions on April 10, 17 and 24 will focus on parenting adolescents. A parenting support group will meet in May through Red Wing Community Education as well.
Therapists that work with children and families are also available in most Goodhue County communities or are within a 20-mile radius. Local food shelves and the United Way help communities provide food to families in need.
Having these resources available is one way we work toward preventing child abuse. Community members can help prevent child abuse by working with parents — our friends, neighbors, colleagues and family members — to safely care for their children, even in stressful times.
What: “Mindful Parenting”
When: 7 p.m. April 10, 17 and 24
Where: Red Wing High School
More information: A parenting support group also will meet in May through Red Wing Community Education