A child cries out

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

Somewhere today, as you read this, a child is crying and desperately begging a parent or other family member to stop the beating. Cowered down in a protective fetal position crying and begging. Slaps to the head and face, hits to the arms or something worse, instilling a deep fear in the child and leaving him or her wondering when it will stop this time. That child has no idea why something that was seemingly an accident, like a spilled drink or forgetting to do a chore, carries such a harsh and painful punishment from the hands of someone they love. It is incomprehensible.

According to the Department of Children and Families, there were more than 22,000 reports of child abuse or neglect to the Florida Abuse hotline in the month of December 2016 alone. There were nearly 33,000 alleged victims and roughly 1,200 children removed from their homes for their safety in the same month. Nationally, 1,670 children died from abuse and neglect in 2015 according to the National Children’s Alliance. And who knows how many other victims of abuse went uncounted.

According to the Santa Rosa Kids House website, in Santa Rosa County more than 2,400 reports were made to the Florida Abuse hotline in 2015. The State Attorney’s Office had 42 cases involving crimes against children open for prosecution. Law enforcement investigated 132 sexual offenses against juveniles and six internet crimes against juveniles. One hundred medical exams were conducted and 102 forensic/specialized interviews were conducted. And the gender of the victims was nearly equal male and female.

Some of these abused victims go to school with your children. They show up with bumps and bruises yet their long sleeves or pants hide the scars of abuse on the outside, and they have learned to hide the scars on their hearts inside. If the beatings are bad enough, they will be absent for a few days to heal the visible wounds. When they return, they will be glad to be in the safety of school where no one will hurt them.

They are quiet because that keeps them safe. They are not inclined to join in with others because they have zero self-confidence. They may not laugh as much because really what is there to laugh about for them? They may resist going home out of fear. They may be consistently dirty or unbathed or may have a sudden change in behavior at school.

Who are the abusers? They are your neighbors, your co-workers, friends, family and people who go about their business every day with a secret. They are lawyers, doctors, service providers and people from every walk of life. And what most of them have in common is that in some way, they were abused as a child. And when every sane thought says that an abused child would never abuse their children, think again. It is all they know how to do; they weren’t taught good parenting skills so they fall back on what they know.

The cycle can be broken and prevention is critical. Learning how to parent positively, cope with stress, manage finances wisely and recognize triggers that cause violent outbursts are all methods of saving our children.

As a community, we can help prevent potential problems when we see them. Offer an afternoon or night of baby-sitting to help out a single parent or a foster parent. Give them a break from the children to go grocery shopping or to do something fun. They can use that time to de-stress. And most importantly, for the sake of the children, if you see something, say something. Everyone should feel obligated to report any suspected abuse to the Florida Abuse hotline at 1-800-96-abuse or online at https://reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us.

All children deserve to have great memories of their childhood; playing ball in the yard, laughing with playmates, celebrating special occasions and enjoying growing up in a safe home with loving parents. What we do and say as parents form their future behavior, be it positive or negative.

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