Since 1983, April has been National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and organizations, parents, and activists use this month to raise awareness regarding the tragedy of child abuse. Child abuse includes emotional abuse, physical abuse, and sexual abuse, and during National Child Abuse Prevention Month, people work to raise awareness regarding child abuse in all its forms.
An event of child abuse is a severe violation of a child’s trust in an adult, and child abuse can have long-term, negative impacts on a child’s behavioral and mental health. The more that a person can do to raise awareness surrounding child abuse and child abuse prevention, the better. In this article, we hope to do our part in raising awareness during National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Below, we discuss risk factors that may lead to child abuse, typical coping behavior among children, and resources for responding to child abuse.
What are the risk factors that can lead to child abuse?
Risk factors that can contribute to cases of child abuse include risk factors associated with the parent or caregiver, risk factors associated with the child, and risk factors associated with the child’s community or society.
Parent and caregiver-associated risk factors include the parent or caregiver having a history of substance abuse or criminal activity. Another parent and caregiver-associated risk factor is the adult not being involved in the child’s care and nurturing. Additionally, parents and caregivers who have been victims of child abuse themselves are more likely to become perpetrators of child abuse as adults. Parent or caregiver financial hardship can also be a risk factor for child abuse.
The parent’s and caregiver’s relationships with other adults can also serve as risk factors for child abuse. Adult isolation and the absence of support networks for child care can lead to instances of child abuse. For example, if an adult or caregiver does not have a relationship with the child’s extended family whom the adult can turn to for help when needed, the stress of child care can lead to cases of child abuse.
Child-associated risk factors include the child’s age. Younger children, specifically under the age of four, are more likely to be the victims of emotional abuse or neglect than are older children. As children approach adolescence, their age becomes a risk factor for sexual abuse. This risk factor for sexual abuse is particularly relevant for female children. Other child-associated risk factors include the child having a mental or physical disability.
Community and society-associated risk factors can also contribute to child abuse. If the child grows up in a community with high levels of substance abuse and violence, the child is more likely to face instances of child abuse. Also, some cultures and societies are more accepting of corporal punishment, and this view can serve as a risk factor for cases of child abuse. Some societies may lack enforcement mechanisms for cases of child abuse, and this reality can also contribute to instances of child abuse.
How do children cope with child abuse?
Often, children who are the victims of child abuse have nowhere to turn to for help. The perpetrators of the abuse are often the most trusted adults in the child’s life, and the child is often dependent on the same adult for their care. Similarly, children do not know how to respond appropriately to instances of child abuse. They usually do not know the resources that are available to them, and they often do not understand what is considered normal in an adult-child relationship.
Many children attempt to cope with instances of child abuse by engaging in denial, as acknowledging that abusive events occurred can be too painful. Some children also respond by emotionally withdrawing themselves, and some children engage in excessive, approval-seeking behavior with adults. Children may also attempt to cope with child abuse by engaging in sudden mood swings and behavioral outbursts.
Unfortunately, a child’s coping mechanisms rarely result in abusive events ending. Without a clear path for help, many children stay silent regarding instances of child abuse, and they end up enduring prolonged periods of abuse.
What resources does a person have for responding to child abuse?
When a person notices a potential case of child abuse, they should know that there is a variety of local and national resources that can support them. When appropriate, a person who recognizes a potential case of child abuse can have a conversation with the child’s parents. A simple conversation can provide useful details that can help the person understand the situation and understand how to best support the child.
To get connected with local and national resources to address a potential case of child abuse, the person can contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1 800 422-4453. Anyone can call the hotline 24/7, and the hotline operators can handle calls in 170 languages. The operators will be able to advise the caller on the situation at hand, and they can connect the caller with resources that are appropriate for their needs.
Regarding identifying potential cases of child abuse, people should know that child abuse is typically only visible as after-effects of the abusive event. Child abuse cases rarely come to light because a person sees an abusive event occur in real-time. More often, adults in the child’s life identify child abuse by recognizing common signs of abuse. These signs can include physical marks on the child’s body or the child recoiling when an adult reaches out to the child for a hug or high-five.
If a person ever believes that a child is in immediate danger, that person should call 911 immediately.
How can San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital help combat child abuse?
San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital provides a variety of behavioral health services for adults. If an adult is struggling with their behavioral or mental health, an inpatient or outpatient behavioral health program at our facility may be right for them. By starting with one of our programs, adults can potentially reduce the risk of their own behavioral and mental health contributing to instances of child abuse.
San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital is committed to helping support families and combat child abuse in San Antonio and the greater Bexar County area. To learn more about the behavioral healthcare admissions process, please call our 24/7 intake hotline at (210) 541-5300.