By Stephen Messner, M.D.
Child abuse — a term that encompasses neglect, physical and sexual abuse — increases with the presence of stressors in the home. These stressors can vary from economic tensions to a crying baby in the middle of the night.
In times of economic distress, the rate of child abuse increases; neglect being the highest. According to Georgia’s Protective Services Data System, 83 percent of abused children experienced neglect.
At Children’s, one of the child advocacy centers in Georgia, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of infants admitted to the hospital as a result of physical abuse. One of the most serious occurrences of this is abusive head trauma, also known as Shaken Baby Syndrome. This form of abuse is most commonly seen in 3- to 8-month-old infants at the hands of a caregiver.
Caregivers become upset under various types of stressors. This frustration can lead some of them to do things they normally would never think of doing — be physically abusive toward an infant.
To reduce the risk of displaced anger, caregivers need to set developmentally appropriate expectations for each child. The child’s age and stage of mental development are factors to keep in mind when responding to the child. Caregivers also need to understand that it is okay to leave the child in a safe location and walk away until they can calmly handle the situation.
In addition to neglect and physical abuse, many of Georgia’s children face sexual abuse. Statistics show that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. In our society today, there are an estimated 39 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Georgia ranks 45th on the national scale of deaths linked to child abuse/neglect. Everyone can do their part to stand up for those who cannot protect themselves and detect signs of child abuse. Be vigilant of the injuries on kids. Injuries on protected areas, such as the back of legs or behind the ears, may be the result of something more serious than injuries encountered during normal play. Broken bones in children who have not begun to walk is another child abuse indicator.
There are many groups established to educate and inform, including Prevent Child Abuse Georgia, a great resource that offers a statewide helpline (1-800-CHILDREN). For more information on abusive head trauma, go to www.donotshake.org. In addition, you may also refer to the seven-step plan devised by the Stewards of Children to learn about protecting a child from sexual abuse.
If you do suspect child abuse, please contact the local police or the Division of Family and Children Services to report the issue and save a child’s life.
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