Child Abuse - How To Be Aware
In the past year, more than 1 in 10 children experienced at least one form of child abuse or neglect, according to the Center for Disease Control. More than 1,500 children died in the United States in 2014 from abuse and neglect. Whether it's sexual, physical or emotional abuse or neglect, children are suffering throughout the country in great numbers.
"We encourage anyone who suspects child abuse to report it," said Casey Coates with the Douglas Police Department. "If you suspect it's happening, let us know. It doesn't just hurt that kid, it hurts our community. It's a community issue."
Statistics show that the financial cost for victims and society are extensive. One CDC study found that in just one year of confirmed child abuse or neglect cases, more than $124 billion was spent through various avenues from law enforcement and caseworkers to mental health care and foster care.
"It's a prevalent problem," Coates said. "There's not a demographic that fits child abuse. It's everywhere."
Child abuse is a felony in Wyoming, so it's something that police and sheriff departments take seriously. Working closely with the Wyoming Department of Children and Family Services, law enforcement will determine if abuse has occurred.
"We're involved in the whole process of reporting, investigating, removing the kids from the home if necessary and filing charges," Coates said. "We make every effort to focus on the welfare of the child."
Signs of child abuse look for include bruising, broken limbs, or a limp. Many times Coates said it will be an injury that a child can't explain that tips off someone to make a report.
Whether it's a frontline contact like law enforcement and the Department of Children and Families or support services like Solutions for Life and Converse County Coalition Against Violence, there are many organizations in the community to turn to if child abuse is suspected or for resources to help struggling families.
"We work with victims of all crimes," said Lisa Thalken, victim advocate for Converse County Coalition Against Violence. "We work with the whole gamut of abuse. We can work with children who have been abused or who have been exposed to abuse."
Most people are surprised to learn just how often children are abused, not only in this community, but nationwide, Thalken said.
"It's a lot more prevalent than we think because a lot of stuff does go unreported," Thalken said. "One in four women have been abused in their lifetime and one in six men have been abused in their lifetime. It's a lot bigger problem than people realize."
The reverberating impact of those numbers echoes throughout the entire community. Not only does it cost communities financially through increased services, but it also affects the individuals who experience the abuse throughout their entire lives.
"People who grow up in an abusive home are more likely to end up in an abusive relationship as an adult," Thalken said. "It's very important to get them appropriate counseling so the cycle does stop."
While statistics show that children are more likely to be abused by someone they know, there are still outside risks, especially in the world of the Internet. Thalken cautions parents to be aware of what their kids are doing online and who they're communicating with.
"If they get online, they are connected to anyone in the world," Thalken said. "Be aware of what kids are doing online."
Regardless of where or how the child experiences abuse, Thalken said it's important for it to get reported so the child can first of all be in a safe place and second, address any long-term emotion impacts that the abuse may have caused.
"We don't take child abuse as seriously as we should," Thalken said. "You never know if It's the first time or it's the twelfth time. We want to make sure the child has a safe place and has a voice."
Converse County Coalition Against Violence provides a 24-hour crisis hotline at 1-307-358-4800 and child abuse can also be reported to the Douglas Police Department or Converse County Sheriff's office.
According to the Child Welfare League of America, the following may be signs of child abuse or neglect.
- Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
- Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents' attention
- Has learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
- Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
- Lacks adult supervision
- Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn
- Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home
- Is reluctant to be around a particular person
- Discloses maltreatment
Signs of Physical Abuse
Consider the possibility of physical abuse when the child:
- Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes
- Has fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school
- Seems frightened of the parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home
- Shrinks at the approach of adults
- Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver
- Abuses animals or pets
Signs of Neglect
Consider the possibility of neglect when the child:
- Is frequently absent from school
- Begs or steals food or money
- Lacks needed medical or dental care, immunizations, or glasses
- Is consistently dirty and has severe body odor
- Lacks sufficient clothing for the weather
- Abuses alcohol or other drugs
- States that there is no one at home to provide care
Signs of Sexual Abuse
Consider the possibility of sexual abuse when the child:
- Has difficulty walking or sitting
- Suddenly refuses to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
- Reports nightmares or bedwetting
- Experiences a sudden change in appetite
- Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior
- Becomes pregnant or contracts a venereal disease, particularly if under age 14
- Runs away
- Reports sexual abuse by a parent or another adult caregiver
- Attaches very quickly to strangers or new adults in their environment
Signs of Emotional Maltreatment
Consider the possibility of emotional maltreatment when the child:
- Shows extremes in behavior, such as overly compliant or demanding behavior, extreme passivity, or aggression
- Is either inappropriately adult (parenting other children, for example) or inappropriately infantile (frequently rocking or head-banging, for example)
- Is delayed in physical or emotional development
- Has attempted suicide
- Reports a lack of attachment to the parent
Additional information can be found at https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/whatiscan.cfm.