Child abuse is a very real problem here in the United States.
When we talk about abuse, most states recognize (and report) four major types: neglect, physical abuse, psychological maltreatment, and sexual abuse. Sometimes a child suffers from only one type of abuse, other times a child suffers from a combination of maltreatment.
In 2014 alone, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reported an estimated 702,000 children were victims of maltreatment. Of these, roughly 75 percent of victims suffered neglect; 17 percent were physically abused; and 8.3 percent were sexually abused.
In 2014, a nationally estimated 1,580 children died of abuse and neglect.
This is painful even to write, but children in their first year of life – babies! – had the highest rate of victimization.
Take a minute and think about that number and the real-life children behind it. These are vulnerable children hurt by the men and women who should be protecting them, their lives forever scarred, their ability to trust tarnished.
These facts have the ability to easily overwhelm – what could we possibly do to help these children in such awful circumstances?
The good news is we can help. Individuals, couples, families, churches – there are things we can all do to help a child in danger, and possibly even safe a life. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Learn the signs of abuse.
The Mayo Clinic has a list of warning signs that might indicate a child is possibly a victim of maltreatment. For example, a victim of physical abuse might have unexplained injuries or bruises. A child who’s been emotionally abused sometimes withdraws socially. Sexual abuse might manifest itself in inappropriate sexual behavior or knowledge. Sometimes neglected kids don’t gain weight well or don’t grow as they should.
If you see these warning signs, please don’t turn away. Look into the situation and, if needed, find help for the child.
2. Help prevent child abuse before it starts.
The Washington Department of Social and Health Services has an excellent list of “10 Things You Can Do to Prevent Child Abuse.” The list features items both for concerned community members as well as parents who might be struggling with their own children.
3. Support families.
Parenting isn’t easy, especially in the increasingly isolated world in which we live. Sometimes moms or dads need time off or a time-out, but have no one they can trust to watch their kids. Sometimes a single mom needs someone to help her with a grocery bill.
Love your neighbor and be that person they can call when life’s pressures make them fear they might lose control. More experienced parents can pour into new moms and dads and listen to their struggles and share advice. Give to your church and other nonprofit groups that help families in need.
4. “W.R.A.P” around foster and adoptive families.
Some child victims of abuse are removed from their families and placed in foster care. Sometimes parental rights are terminated and these children are then adopted into loving families.
The families caring for these “children from hard places” need our love and practical support. Their job is often difficult – the child may be acting out, testing boundaries and unable to “attach” to their caregivers. (If you are thinking about adopting a child who has been abused, here’s a resource that might help as you pray through the decision.)
That’s why we encourage Christians to come alongside these families—wrestle in prayer with them and for them; provide respite care; perform acts of service and claim the promises of God for that family. The help these families receive will ultimately help the child heal.
Finally – if you’re a mom or dad who’s struggling with controlling your emotions, appropriate discipline or providing for your child, please find help. There are churches and groups (like us at Focus on the Family) who want to come alongside you and help you parent your child well.
We offer parenting advice and helpful materials (like this resource on avoiding extremes in child discipline). We’re here to talk and pray with you. We want to recommend trusted sources of help for you. Please call us at 1-800-A-Family and speak to one of our counselors or family help specialists.