By Brian Middendorf, Guest Columnist
April is recognized in the United States as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Let’s use this month to raise awareness of the ongoing problems of child abuse and neglect, and educate ourselves, family and friends, on prevention.
The first step toward prevention is understanding what constitutes child abuse. It is any maltreatment of a child that results in harm or injury. Examples include: physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect.
Next, pay attention to the children you know and meet. Recognize signs of abuse or neglect. Unexplained injuries are a more obvious sign of possible abuse. But children may also show behavioral signs of abuse.
Depression, fear of a certain adult, difficulty trusting others or making friends, sudden changes in eating or sleeping patterns, inappropriate sexual behavior, poor hygiene, secrecy and hostility can be indicators a child is being neglected or physically, sexually or emotionally abused.
Please do not be afraid to act on what you observe. You may be a child’s only lifeline to safety. Child abuse is everyone’s business.
Suspected abuse should be reported to your local county child protection services office. Or call local law enforcement if necessary. Social workers and officers in these agencies will appropriately investigate reports; they want to protect the children in our communities. Families may also receive services to hopefully end abusive behaviors, or assistance in finding resources to provide for their children’s needs.
Intervention and prevention are critical — 30 percent of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children, thus continuing the destructive cycle of abuse. The annual cost of child abuse and neglect in our country is estimated in the billions of dollars.
At a minimum this April – in observance of Child Abuse Prevention Month – we can each practice one very practical tip with our own children. Discipline them thoughtfully. Do not discipline your child when you are upset. Calm down. Words and actions can inflict deep and lasting wounds. The goal of discipline is to guide and teach, not to punish. The word discipline is derived from the Latin “disciplina,” meaning teaching and learning.
Finally, I would like to recommend a fun and affordable family event. The Safe Families of Morrison County coalition is holding a pizza lunch fundraiser at the VFW in Little Falls Sunday, April 28, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Everyone is invited to attend. Best of all, the proceeds will go toward preventing child abuse in Morrison County.
Life and work can be stressful for adults and parenting is hard. National Child Abuse Prevention Month can be a time for us all to remember that, “Might does not make right.” Abuse of a child is never right.
Brian Middendorf is the county attorney for Morrison County.