|| Ending child abuse isn't 'someone else's' responsibility.
It's mine. And yours
by Todd Suntrapak
It started as Child Abuse Prevention Week in 1982. The next year, President Reagan proclaimed it to be a month-long awareness initiative. Every year since then, during April in particular, we all say that child abuse must end.
And it does not.
There are three fundamental truths behind this issue.
First, every day should be the day we end child abuse. Not just a week or a month.
Second, it is a harsh reality that we even need to have an awareness campaign at all around an issue like child abuse.
And, third, child abuse rates have continued to rise over the last almost-four decades, despite our best public awareness efforts.
At Valley Children's Hospital and across our network, our team works every day to get kids back to being kids – playing, growing and learning. But for the nearly 1,000 children we see every year at the hospital for reasons directly related to child abuse, the opportunities to play and to grow and to learn in healthy, loving environments simply do not exist.
Of those precious children, 146 had to be hospitalized because their injuries were so severe. And of all the statistics, the one that we, as a community, should never accept – is that every year, four to five children die at Valley Children's from complications directly related to child abuse.
We have all heard the national, state and local statistics. In the United States, more than four children die every day from child abuse and neglect. In California, half a million children are reported abused every year….most often at the hands of someone the child knows and trusts.
The highest rates of child abuse occur in children under the age of 1. More than one-quarter of victims are younger than three years old. Right here in Central California, as many as 90,000 reports of suspected child abuse are filed each year.
The effects of child abuse last a lifetime.
In a 1990s landmark study sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control, a strong correlation was discovered between childhood abuse and subsequent adult diseases including diabetes, obesity, depression, hepatitis, alcoholism, heart disease, fractures and suicide.
For adults who experienced adverse childhood experiences, their likelihood to attempt suicide, develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol, smoke or suffer from mental illness are significantly increased.
So our ability to prevent child abuse now will make a huge difference to every kid we help, today and as they grow into adulthood.
We must keep working at this.
Our communities are growing, the challenges for many families are complicated and there is conflict present in the world around us. Despite all of that – and maybe because of it – we must continue the work to end the cycles of child abuse here in our communities.
The Guilds Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Center at Valley Children's provides education to parents, caregivers, health care personnel and teachers throughout the Valley on how to spot signs of child abuse. The center remains open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If we diagnose or suspect intentional harm has been done to a patient, our Child Advocacy Clinic works with local law enforcement, child protective services and district attorneys' offices with a goal of rescuing children from abusers.
To strengthen our community's response to child abuse cases, the Fresno County District Attorney's office recently received a grant from the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), Victim Services and Public Safety Branch, to initiate an Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Report System (E-SCAR) in Fresno County.
E-SCAR establishes a database enabling electronic sharing of suspected child abuse reports among district attorney's offices, local law enforcement and county child welfare departments. The more we can share information about suspected child abuse cases, the better our chances to protect children.
Each of us must commit to ending child abuse.
Ending child abuse is not “someone else's” responsibility. It is my responsibility. And yours. And every neighbor, teacher, faith leader, police officer, store owner and parent's responsibility. So what can we do?
Learn the signs. Child abuse occurs everywhere. It doesn't know limits of zip codes, how much someone earns or what kind of house they live in.
If you see something, say something. If you suspect a child is being neglected or abused, report your concerns to authorities. It is better to be wrong than sorry.
Support the families around you. Offer parents the resources they need.
Talk about child abuse prevention in your family, your schools, workplaces and places of worship.
Volunteer your time to organizations working to help kids who are victims of child abuse. Advocate for kids at the local, state and federal levels of government.
Above all, be a voice for those smallest, most precious members of our community who often have no voice at all.
From our vantage point, it is difficult to witness a child going through an illness or injury, but it's particularly devastating when we see a child who has been deliberately harmed.
There is one thing we simply cannot forget. Child abuse ends lives, destroys hope and changes a kid's life forever.
And at Valley Children's, we know that every child has a future worth fighting for.