Education and Awareness are the Best Preventions Against Child Abuse
SIOUX FALLS (Sept. 1, 2013) - Loving parents rarely think their own actions, or the actions of a family member or friend, could ever be classified as “child abuse.” Yet anyone is capable of a moment of weakness, so awareness is one of the best preventions.
“Most physical abuse occurs inside the family or with close friends,” said Dr. Nikki Kress, an Emergency Department physician at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center and Medical Director for Avera McKennan’s SCAN (Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect) team. “A lot of times, it’s a lack of parenting or child care education of someone who doesn’t have any deliberate intent to hurt a child,” said Kari Folkens, Social Worker at Avera McKennan.
Children are at greatest risk of abuse when they are at their most vulnerable age – under the age of 1 year. Injuries at this age most often involve shaking. “Before they go home from the hospital, new parents are taught to never shake a baby,” Dr. Kress said. Shaking an infant can cause permanent brain damage and even death. Those who are not aware of this fact – or forget in a moment of frustration – might shake a baby to try to get him to stop crying.
The “period of PURPLE crying” is a normal developmental stage that begins at 2 weeks of age and continues until about three to four months of age. Developed by Dr. Ronald Barr, a developmental pediatrician, PURPLE is an acronym that stands for the following characteristics:
- Peak of crying – babies cry in this age range more than at any other time in their life
- Unexpected – crying can come and go for no known reason
- Resists soothing – the baby may not stop crying no matter what you try
- Pain-like face – the baby may look like she is in pain, even when she is not
- Long-lasting – crying can go on for five hours a day or more
- Evening – babies cry more in the late afternoon or evening
Parents or any other caregivers should know that it’s perfectly safe to leave the baby in the crib, close the door and let him cry.
As children get older, they should not have bruises or marks on their bottom, or inner arms, where they are being spanked too hard or grabbed by the arm. They should not be hit so hard with a hand or an object that it leaves a pattern mark or bruise. “Whether or not spanking is child abuse is a controversial issue,” Dr. Kress said. “But if spanking is leaving a mark, it’s going overboard.”
Sexual abuse is perpetrated most often by someone the child knows, and the family trusts, Folkens said. Signs such as blood on underwear are obvious. Other signs are more subtle, such as being withdrawn, not wanting to change clothes in front of parents, knowing more about sexual matters than they should at their age, or re-enacting inappropriate behavior with younger children.
Neglect can be considered abuse as well – letting children play unsupervised at a pool or near a pot of hot water, or allowing an 8-year-old to watch a 3-year-old.
Parents should know their limits. Caring for young children 24 hours a day can be exhausting and frustrating. If parents find themselves at a breaking point, they should stop, put the child in a safe place, and walk away for several minutes. If your baby is a crier, ask friends or family to step in and give you a break, or access community resources.
Parents should also be aware of the risk of abuse from other caregivers. “Don’t leave your child in the care of a new boyfriend or a new girlfriend,” Dr. Kress said. Ensure that day care providers are licensed. If family members or friends care for your child, make sure they know what to do if the baby cries, or if an older child misbehaves.
“The best prevention for child abuse is awareness and education,” Folkens said.
For more information about child care and parenting, go to www.AveraChildrens.org