April was Child Abuse Prevention Month. The problem with “honorary months” is that the second the first of the next month hits, you’re on to the next thing. So, I’m not being a month behind here; I’m keeping last month’s momentum going. And I can guarantee you that child abuse didn’t end with May 1st.
The simple fact is, a report of child abuse is made every ten seconds.
The U.S. has one of the worst records among industrialized nations – losing an average of between four and seven children every day to child abuse and neglect. Every year, more than 3.6 million referrals are made to child protection agencies involving more than 6.6 million children.
Just how bad is the issue of child abuse in the United States? Children are suffering from a hidden epidemic of child abuse and neglect. It’s a widespread war against our children that we have the power to stop, and the first step is to recognize what “child abuse and neglect” really is and is not. And the test – when determining the “is” and “is not” should be an objective test; not subjective. The question should be “what is reasonable under the circumstances?” not “how does that make me feel?” We all walk through life with our own biases and prejudices. And because of this, none of us should have the unbridled authority to determine someone’s ability to parent.
So, let’s start with what child abuse and neglect “is not.” It is not, in and of itself, poverty, ignorance, or a lack of education. It is not a mistake, an accident or a one-time-bad choice. It is not a “maybe,” a “could happen,” or a “risk of.”
Now for what child abuse and neglect is: it’s the inability to learn and change your behavior. It’s the absence of providing for those who can’t provide for themselves. It’s the consistent failure to protect, the intentional act done with a harmful purpose, the life choices that affect others to significant harm. It’s the history, the imminent risk, the now.
How do we prevent child abuse? Knowledge. Parents should know what it is and is not. Teachers, medical personnel, therapists, social workers and most importantly, our judges and our legislators. Once we know what child abuse and neglect is, we can walk away from those cases that fit within the “is not” category. Now we can focus on the “is” cases. Now we can help those children; we can teach those parents; and we can support and guide those families to become healthy. Now CPS won’t be spread so thin. Now the courts won’t be overwhelmed with unjustified cases. Now our foster care system won’t be oversaturated. Now our children won’t get lost in a broken system that revictimizes instead of heals. Now we can start preventing child abuse and neglect.
Now we can spend the time and money to properly train the investigators, the caseworkers, the supervisors and program directors. Now we have clear lines, clear rules, clear definitions. With this clarity, each individual charged with protecting our children can do so without infringing on parental rights or violating the due process afforded to all of us.
So how do you “do your part” in the prevention of child abuse and neglect? You don’t call CPS. Not unless it’s warranted. Not unless a child is at risk of death or serious injury. Instead, reach out to that parent, that child, that caregiver. If you can’t reach out, call someone who can. Be aware of your biases and prejudices. Look at situations objectively and with reason. And if you absolutely have to call CPS, do so with no other motive than to protect a child. Do not call CPS out of anger, revenge, or malice. Know that once you make that call, you are changing the life of a family… of a child.