By Jennifer Kaysen
Did you know that April is National Child Abuse Prevention month? Even though child abuse should be prevented year-round, I’m thrilled that a month was set aside to recognize how important our role is in forming an understanding of just how imperative the well-being of a child is.
Children are sensitive to every issue they face. What they experience in early life is what molds them for the future. Of course we all face hardships, but, unfortunately, the effects of child abuse are more than a hardship. The effects are devastating. According to Dr. David Kolko, a member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and a Professor of Psychiatry, Psychology and Pediatrics at the University School of Medicine, “The impact of physical abuse on a child’s life can be far-reaching. It is especially devastating when a parent, the person a child depends on for protection and safety, becomes a danger. Some children develop traumatic stress reactions. Some become anxious and depressed. Many physically abused children become aggressive themselves or have other behavioral problems. They may do unto others what they’ve experienced themselves.”
How can a child focus and grow in a normal fashion if he or she is faced with the trauma of child abuse? Children who are victims of abuse feel scared, alone, unwanted, and are often lied to which in turn causes them to lose trust in everyone around them. “Research has shown that abuse and neglect may impair the healthy development of the brain. Chronic abuse can have significant and broad consequences. Physical, mental, and emotional development may all suffer” (Widom, Kahn, Kaplow, Sepulveda-Kozakowski & Wilson, 2007).
“Studies have shown that the psychological and social effects of physical abuse may continue into adult life. In one long-term study, 80 percent of young adults who had been abused as children had at least one psychiatric disorder at age 21 (Silverman, Reinherz & Giaconia, 1996). Among these young adults’ problems were depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide attempts. For example, an individual may continue to suffer from low self-esteem and a predisposition to depression or anxiety. Adults who were abused as children are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. One study indicated that abuse and neglect in childhood increased the likelihood of adult criminal behavior by 28 percent and violent crime by 30 percent (Widom & Maxfield, 2001). A history of child abuse seems to increase vulnerability to a number of other chronic health problems” (Felitti et al., 1998).
So, what can you do to help?
One thing that could be done is to support CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children). CASA of Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem Counties is a non-profit organization of volunteers trained to advocate for the best interest of an abused or neglected child. CASA advocates for every child to be placed in a safe, permanent home as quickly as possible. Becoming a CASA advocate doesn’t require much of your time and is extremely rewarding. With the help of advocates, child abuse awareness is spread, making for a much smoother route on the road to prevention.
To learn more about becoming a special advocate, continue here: Special Advocate
Here are some other ways to help without becoming a special advocate:
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Questions and Answers About Child Physical Abuse: An Interview with David Kolko, PhD The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, www.NCTSN.org
- Felitti, V.J., Anda, R.F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D.F., Spitz, A.M., Edwards, V.et al. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14, 245-258.
- Silverman, A.B., Reinherz, H.Z., & Giaconia, R.M. (1996). The long-term sequelae of child and adolescent abuse: A longitudinal community study. Child Abuse and Neglect, 20, 709-723.
- Widom, C.S., Kahn, E.E., Kaplow, J.B., Sepulveda-Kozakowski, S., & Wilson, H.W. (2007). Child abuse and neglect: Potential derailment from normal developmental pathways. NYS Psychologist, 19, 2-6.
- Widom, C.S. & Maxfield, M.G. (2001). An update on the “cycle of violence.” Research in brief. Washington: National Institute of Justice. Retrieved April 29, 2008, from http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ nij/184894.pdf.