As an individual and as a member of your community, you have the power to prevent child abuse and neglect. Here are some ways to contribute your ounce—or more—of effort to prevention.
· Understand the problem. Child abuse and neglect affect children of all ages, races, and incomes. According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), in 1999, an estimated 826,000 children nationwide were victims of maltreatment. Most experts believe that actual incidents of abuse and neglect are more numerous than statistics indicate.
· Understand the causes. Most parents don't hurt or neglect their children intentionally. Many were themselves abused or neglected. Very young or inexperienced parents might not know how to take care of their babies or what they can reasonably expect from children at different stages of development. Circumstances that place families under extraordinary stress—for instance, poverty, divorce, sickness, disability—sometimes take their toll in child maltreatment. Parents who abuse alcohol or other drugs are more likely to abuse or neglect their children.
· Support programs that support families. Parent education, community centers, respite care services, and substance abuse treatment programs help to protect children by addressing circumstances that place families at risk for child abuse and neglect. Donate your time or money, if you can.
· Report suspected abuse and neglect. Some States require everyone to report suspected abuse or neglect; others specify members of certain professions, such as educators and doctors. But whether or not you are mandated by law to report child abuse and neglect, doing so may save a child—and a family. If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call the police or your local child welfare agency.
· Spread the word. Help educate others in your community about child abuse and neglect. See the list on the back of this sheet for sources of free materials. Ask if you can leave a stack of brochures at your local public library, recreation or community center, government center, or other public place. You also might make material available at your church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other faith institutions. Even grocery stores usually have places to distribute community materials.
· Strengthen the fabric of your community. Know your neighbors' names and the names of their children, and make sure they know yours. Give stressed parents a break by offering to watch their children. Volunteer. If you like interacting with children, great, but you do not have to volunteer directly with kids to contribute to prevention. All activities that strengthen communities, such as service to civic clubs and participation on boards and committees, ultimately contribute to the well-being of children.
· Be ready in an emergency. We've all witnessed the screaming-child-in-the-supermarket scenario. If we are parents, at least once that screaming child has been ours. Most parents take the typical tantrum in stride. But what if you witness a scene—in the supermarket or anywhere else—where you believe a child is being, or is about to be, physically or verbally abused? Responding in these circumstances technically moves beyond prevention to intervention, and intervention is best handled by professionals. Still, if you find yourself in a situation where you believe a child is being or about to be abused at that moment, there are steps you can take.
Prevent Child Abuse America suggests the following:
Talk to the adult to get their attention away from the child. Be friendly.
Say something like, "Children can really wear you out, can't they?" or "My child has done the same thing."
Ask if you can help in any way—could you carry some packages? Play with an older child so the baby can be fed or changed? Call someone on your cell phone?
If you see a child alone in a public place—for example, unattended in a grocery cart—stay with the child until the parent returns.