Children are our loved ones, our future and our joy as well as our responsibility. And I do not mean just the children born to us, I also mean the children in our neighborhoods, our communities and our country. Children are our future leaders, future teachers, future scientists, future doctors and nurses and future parents. Children are often called our greatest natural resource.
Our country has laws to advocate for our children as well as to protect them. It may suprise you to know that it was as recently as 1974 that our first federal laws regarding child abuse were passed. Prior to that the only protection they had was state laws and sometimes those laws could be a bit haphazard at best. But in 1974 the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), went into effect.
In June 1982 the first National Child Abuse Awareness week was proclaimed. Since 1983 the time was increased to a month and the National Child Abuse Awareness Month has always been held in the month of April. A time to clebrate children and renew our committment to protect them.
Protecting children often means doing a hard thing. It means that sometimes the average citizen may have to report suspicions that a child may be being abused. And it could be a strangers child, but most often is a neighbor, or a friend or relative. So the decision to report is not easy. You may even find yourself questioning if you should have the right to make a report on what is happening in someone else’s home. The answer to that is yes. Every child is important. Every child is worth saving. We lose too many children to violence, and even one child is too many.
Protecting children sounds like something that should be instinctive, something that all parents should do for their own children. And most do. But sometimes things break down. A parent maybe cannot or will not protect them. Or perhaps even becomes the abuser.
A child can suffer from abuse in many ways. Direct abuse to the child that may or may not result in physical injury to the child. Or through observance of the abuse of others. Both have a profound and lasting psychological effect on children as well as any physical affects of an injury.
So the National Child Abuse Awareness month is a reminder to all that there are laws to protect children. And that anyone who happens to witness abuse of any child, it should be reported. Some reports may trigger efforts to have the children removed from an unsafe environment. And some reports may result in an arrest. And some reports may result in obtaining assistance to aid the family in staying together. But all reports must be investigated and all actions taken are to protect the child.
What should you report? Any time you see abuse, any time that you see injuries on a child and were told the injuries were due to something else- but the story doesn’t seem to match the injuries. Any time you hear a child talk about abuse. Making a report doesn’t automatically condemn the reported person. Their will be no action unless their investigation reveals that abuse did occur and the agency feels that some action needs to be taken. And the action that is taken will vary according to circumstances in the home, what the investigation reveals and what the investigating agency feels is the best protection for the child. What should you do if you report abuse, and do not see any action being taken? Caseworkers cannot just walk into a home and remove children unless their investigation confirms abuse or neglect and reveals an immediate danger to the child. In some cases, it may take more than one report to give enough evidence. If you see further signs of abuse or neglect, you make new reports. And always try to make reports soon after a suspected incident, while any possible evidence will be fresh.
Now while we are on the subject of abuse and how it affects children, remember when I said that children can be affected by observing abuse of others? Even very young children can be affected by violence in the home. Even young children can suffer from traumatic stress, even if they have not been abused themselves. And statistically there is a greater chance that if there is domestic violence in the home, there is a greater chance that child abuse also occurs in the home.
So please remember that all children need our protection. There is an old proverb I think Africian proverb that I think is very appropriate at this time. It says it takes a whole village to raise a child. And I believe it takes all of us to help protect them.