August 27, 2013

Putting a Stop to Child Abuse

By Pam Haumann
New Parent Services Manager
Child Abuse Council

What is child abuse?

The definition of child abuse is the mistreatment of any child under the age of 18 that causes harm or injury. Child abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional or neglectful in nature. Physical abuse for example is hurting a child by hitting, biting, shaking, burning and kicking. Sexual abuse is any sexual behavior imposed on a child and can be touching and non-touching offenses. Emotional abuse is criticizing, insulting, yelling, swearing, manipulating, rejecting or not meeting a child’s emotional needs by withholding love and physical affection and attention. Neglect is the lack of providing a safe physical environment for the child; inadequate nutrition, clothing or hygiene care; inadequate supervision; lack of treatment for medical problems, illnesses, or trauma; and also includes educational neglect. Sometimes, the person does not mean to hurt the child, but whether it’s intentional or not, it’s still child abuse.

Why should you learn about child abuse?

Because child abuse hurts everyone. Children suffer physical and emotional harm that can last a lifetime. Society suffers, too. The U.S. spends $104 billion annually in response to child abuse: child welfare services, medical treatment, hospitalization, and law enforcement intervention and special education, mental and physical health care, juvenile delinquency, lost productivity and adult criminality. There is a well documented link between childhood abuse and long-term health effects: increased risk of teen pregnancy or STDs, central nervous system damage, speech problems, inhibited growth, mental and emotional disturbances, delayed language development, low self-esteem and aggressive tendencies. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study also found that children who suffer maltreatment and/or are exposed to dysfunction in the home have an increased risk of smoking, obesity, depression, alcoholism, illicit drug use, heart disease, high blood pressure and hepatitis. The cost of child abuse, whether in terms of tax dollars or human suffering documents a clear need to give priority to child abuse prevention efforts.

How can you tell if a child you know is being abused?

Look for physical signs like bruises or broken bones, burns, welts, black eyes, broken teeth, bite marks and bald spots. Be suspicious of unexplained injuries or injuries in places where a child is not likely to injure him/herself such as on the chest or back.

Understanding people who abuse children is important to understanding child abuse.

There is no “typical” child abuser; they come from all economic, ethnic and social groups. They can include your neighbors, friends, or relatives who are having serious personal problems. Most abusers know and love the children they abuse. It is less common for children to be abused by a stranger. Children who are abused are more likely to continue the cycle of abuse with their own children. Stress is a major factor in child abuse, but it is no excuse for child abuse. Stress is part of everyone’s life, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to find healthy ways to deal with stress without hurting children!

What can you do? Take action.

Child abuse must be reported and addressed. Iowa Child Abuse Hotline: 800-362-2178 and Illinois Child Abuse Hotline: 800-252-2873. Many people fear that reporting abuse will destroy a family. The truth is, getting help can protect children from further harm.
Child abuse can be prevented.

Neighbors and families should reach out to those in need. By providing parents and caregivers with support and the right tools, they can learn how to handle stressful situations. Take a special interest in the families and children in your neighborhood. Just offering to help with errands and baby-sitting can help relieve dangerous tension. Every contribution is valuable. You can donate time by volunteering at a program in the community, donate slightly used items that you no longer need, buy canned goods for the local food pantry, buy toys for a family center or program, make a cash donation to support a family-oriented charity or organize a fund raiser for a family-oriented charity. Child abuse concerns us all. Understanding the causes and effects of child abuse, learning the warning signs of abuse and reporting any known or suspected case of child abuse can prevent a tragedy. Children are our future and they deserve to grow up safe and free of abuse.

For more information about the Child Abuse Council’s prevention, education and treatment programs, you can visit us at or contact me at