Child abuse is a difficult subject to address, but professionals say it is a discussion that all parents, caregivers and responsible adults should take seriously.
Tim Perry, Frontier Health’s senior vice president for children’s services in Tennessee, said many Americans think child abuse or child neglect is something that happens elsewhere.
“Parents are often reluctant” to even imagine such abuse could be happening in their neighborhoods and in their own families, he said.
But it does: Officials say a child is abused somewhere every 47 seconds in the day. Tennessee alone had more than 67,000 reported cases of child abuse in 2019.
That’s why educators, law enforcement officials and health providers have designated April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month to call attention to the problem.
While data is not yet available from 2020, Perry and others believe the isolation and the social distancing of the COVID-19 pandemic may have made child abuse much more difficult to spot.
Perry notes that physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and verbal abuse are all forms of child abuse. Some of the things that might indicate child abuse include:
• Withdrawal from normal activities;
• Frequent cuts or bruises;
• Signs of self-harm;
• Changes in sleep patterns;
• Loss of appetite or changes in eating habits;
• Reluctance to return home after an activity;
• Bad hygiene;
• Sexual knowledge that’s not age appropriate;
• Abnormal fears;
• Signs of depression or low self-esteem; and
• Bed wetting.
“Never dismiss statements or signs coming from a child indicating abuse,” Perry said. “Listen closely and intently, and show them you are taking them seriously.”
Most importantly, Perry said try to make a child who is reporting the abuse “feel safe.” That means restraining your own anger toward the perpetrator of the abuse, and reassuring the child that the abuse is not their fault.
“Don’t seem to be cross examining the child by digging deep into the details,” Perry said. “Leave the investigation to the professionals.”
Tennessee law requires anyone with suspicions of child abuse to report it immediately to the state Department of Children’s Services or to local law enforcement officials.
If you suspect physical harm or danger to a child, Perry said dial 911 immediately.
You can also report child abuse any time of the day or night by calling Tennessee’s child abuse hotline at 877-237-0004. In Virginia, call 1-800-552-7096.
Tennesseans can also report child abuse online by going to apps.tn.gov/carat .