April is Child Abuse Prevention month. Let’s be honest, nobody likes talking about child abuse. It’s uncomfortable to think about and talk about. We see stories on TV and it makes our skin crawl, but we tell ourselves that that it doesn’t impact our own kids and our own communities.
We don’t want to look at it, so we look away.
The stark reality is that 28% of children have experienced physical abuse, 13% of children have experienced domestic abuse, and 20% of children have experienced sexual abuse (source). With statistics like these, there is no doubt that there are children in our communities, our churches, and our kids’ classrooms who are trapped in awful situations. It doesn’t just happen to “those people.”
As the mother of a toddler, what is particularly horrifying is that over one-quarter (27.%) of child abuse victims are younger than 3 years (source). I was bathing my son the other night, and had this moment where I looked down at his cute little face and naked body and saw how fully he trusted me. And in that moment I realized how easy it is for young children to become victims of abuse. Children are our most vulnerable population; they are totally dependent on the adults in their lives and don’t have the words to speak out.
The toxic stress from abuse damages a child’s developing brain and changes their biology
With children, it can be easy to tell ourselves that they are resilient and will move past their experiences. Actually, science tells us that this is completely untrue. A relatively recent study on Adverse Childhood Experiences determined that the toxic levels of stress experienced in these situations actually damages the developing architecture of a child’s brain and changes their biology.
Nadine Burke Harris, an incredible pediatrician and mother, helped develop this groundbreaking research and gave a must watch TED Talk on the topic.
My ACE score is high and is a direct result of the fact that my mother’s ACE score is high. When I became a mom, one of my biggest worries was that this cycle would continue. It’s something I think about frequently and will probably continue to worry about for the rest of my son’s childhood. I know the kind of parent he needs and more than anything, I want to be that parent.
The next time you see a child and something seems off, I want you to stop and think about this: as uncomfortable as it may make you to say something or to call social services, think about how uncomfortable it is for that child. Think about the possible long-term impact of not saying something. Impacts that will damage that child for life and will likely ripple across generations.
North Carolina is a mandatory reporting state
If you suspect that a child has been abused, call your local county Department of Social Services (DSS) where the child lives. Find contact information for your local DSS in the North Carolina DSS County Directory. Share any information you have about the child – name, age, address and parent or caregiver name – and what makes you suspect abuse (here are some indicators). If the county DSS decides to investigate, they will begin the assessment within 24 hours for abuse.