Child abuse is focus in April

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 10, 2003

This month, Pike Countians have the perfect opportunity to look more closely at an increasingly serious social problem.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and old and young are encouraged to learn about the effects of child abuse and what they can do to prevent it and end it.

"Prevention is not just for DHR," said Florence Mitchell, who is the director of the Department of Human Resources in Pike County.

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"Of course we have a legal mandate to take reports and follow up on them, but we can't get the job done without the help of the whole community."

As important as Reading, 'Riting and 'Rithmetic, "The Five R's" categorized below are reliable guidelines for recognizing and preventing child abuse.

Raising the issue

Mitchell said the best way to prevent abuse is to become informed about it.

She said a lot of the parents case workers see during an alleged child abuse case simply don't have an adequate knowledge of parenting or don't know how to properly handle stress or anger.

"Awareness and education are number one in prevention," she said.

"It happens everywhere, in all incomes and households.

It isn't just a poor person disease."

Individuals can also write or talk to elected officials about child abuse prevention, intervention and treatment and schools and churches can sponsor classes for new parents.

Individuals also need to know how serious child abuse is in their community.

Last year, DHR in Pike County received 125 reports of child abuse and neglect involving 181 children in Pike County.

Statewide, officials received 20,145 reports involving 29,733 children.

Reaching out to children and adults

Because Mitchell believes child abuse is a community problem, she said any interaction with children is child abuse prevention.

"There are a number of people who are interested in trying to approach (child abuse) prevention," Mitchell said as she rattled off individuals and organizations.

She said Abstinence in Motion and Big Brothers Big Sisters were both good prevention programs.

"(AIM) is good because it teaches about the risks of teen pregnancy," she said.

"Teen pregnancy can certainly lead to child abuse or neglect because young mothers are often unprepared for parenthood."

Teen mentoring programs like STAR and after-school programs are also good ways to be positive influences on children.

Such programs can help prevent them from growing up to be abusive parents.

The Exchange Club also has a committee called the Prevention of Child Abuse Committee, of which Mitchell is chairperson.

She said this month she has planned several speakers to speak about child abuse prevention and education.

Remembering the risk factors

Dale Calhoun, who is the supervisor of intake assessment, said it is hard to pinpoint just one risk factor.

"It can be a lot of combinations of things," she said.

"It could be that there is an ignorance about parenting, not knowing how to deal with stress or having witnessed (abuse) themselves as a child.

There really isn't one that outweighs the other."

Still, individuals should be aware that the following factors can increase the risk of child abuse: drug and alcohol abuse; isolation from families or communities; difficulty controlling anger or stress; little interest in the care, nourishment or safety of the child; or economic, housing or personal problems.

Signs of abuse include bruises or marks, nervousness around adults, aggression toward adults and children or a child acting out something sexually that is not age appropriate.

These indicators alone, however, do not automatically warrant child abuse; they are merely probable causes and indicators.

Reporting suspected abuse or neglect

If individuals have "reasonable suspicion" child abuse or neglect is occurring, they should contact law enforcement officers or DHR officials immediately.

"If you suspect it, call," Mitchell said.

"All that is required is reasonable suspicion and we'll look into it."

Reporters of child abuse are considered to be acting in "good faith" and are therefore immune from any court action against them that may ensue during the investigation.

Some individuals are bound by law to report abuse.

These people include teachers and school officials, doctors, nurses, law enforcement officials and day care workers.

For this reason, Mitchell said DHR works closely with schools and hospitals.

"We try to keep families together," Calhoun said.

"That is our main goal…We'll go into the home to preserve the family and reunify the family."

Calhoun said DHR can implement programs tailored for the needs of the family, whether it includes involving another relative-such as a grandmother-to help watch the children or going into the home everyday to help the family deal with the situation.

"It's embarrassing," Mitchell said of the parents suspected of child abuse.

"But we don't go in there being accusatory.

We are there to work together with the family to solve the problem.

People do have the ability to change."

She said most parents are appreciative of the help and they are able to work it out.

However, since the safety of the child is most important, DHR will not hesitate to involve the authorities or take court action if needed.