November 19, 2012 is World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse. Sadly, the recent news headlines on the national, regional, and local levels have been filled with tragic story after story of infant and toddler child abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, many of the instances of abuse end in death.
According to 2010 data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), children younger than 1 year accounted for 47.7 percent of fatalities; children younger than 4 years accounted for nearly four-fifths (79.4 percent) of fatalities. These children are the most vulnerable for many reasons, including their dependency, small size, and inability to defend themselves. In 2010, parents, acting alone or with another person, were responsible for 79.2 percent of child abuse or neglect fatalities.
So, who are the perpetrators? Although there is not a specific profile, there are several indicators. The National Center for Child Death Review statistics shows that fathers and mothers’ boyfriends are most often the perpetrators in abuse deaths (e.g., drowning, suffocating, or shaking a baby); mothers are more often at fault in neglect fatalities (e.g., an infant who drowns after being left unsupervised in the bathtub). The most common reason given by caretakers who fatally injure their children is that they lost patience when the child would not stop crying. Other common reasons given by the abusers include bedwetting, fussy eating and disobedient behavior.
Since young children are unable to verbally communicate that they are being abused, it’s important to know the signs: infants or toddlers who are being sexually abused may have a rash or visible abrasions in and around the genital areas. The area may seem bruised or have cuts and scrapes, and there may be bleeding or scarring in the diaper area, according to New York University’s Langone Medical Center. They may also seem more irritable, cry more and seem more difficult to comfort. Children may seem unusually clingy or fearful. Sleeping and eating patterns may change for no obvious reason, as well.
The Administration for Children and Families lists many signs and symptoms that may indicate a child is being abused: extensive bruises, especially in areas of the body that are not normally vulnerable; frequent bruises, particularly on the head or face, the abdomen, or midway between the wrist and elbow; bruises in specific shapes, such as handprints or belt buckles; marks that indicate hard blows from an object like an electrical cord and bruises on multiple parts of the body. A complete list can be found on their website.
If you suspect a child is being abused, report it. There are many resources to help you report the abuse and understand what steps to take. In recognition of World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse, Children’s Advocacy Centers of Georgia is participating in 19 days of Activism: Protecting Children and Their Dreams statewide advocacy campaign. See their website for a full schedule and ways to get involved.