Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month, observed during April, is almost over. April was designated by Congress in 1983 to be a time each year when child abuse awareness and prevention activities are promoted in the United States. For over 29 years, child abuse issues have been brought to the forefront this time of year. Even with this annual national focus on prevention, child abuse occurs daily. With this in mind, it is imperative that we, as a community, step up local efforts to acknowledge and speak out on the dynamics and devastation of child abuse.
Harmony House, our local Children's Advocacy Center (CAC), serves Ohio and Marshall Counties from our Wheeling center and Belmont County from our St. Clairsville center. Harmony House urges everyone to promote child abuse awareness and prevention every day, every week, every month, and every year.
Local statistics are staggering. The West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources and Ohio Job & Family Services receive hundreds of referrals every year of known or suspected child abuse and/or neglect right here in the Ohio Valley. Our local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors are also dealing with an increasing number of alleged crimes against some of our most vulnerable victims, our own local children.
The use of the specialized services of Harmony House, a United Way agency, continues to increase at an alarming rate. Harmony House's caseload has increased significantly each year since it was founded in 2003. The following reflect the Center's agency's statistics for the year 2011: 741 clients served, 248 specialized child forensic interviews conducted, 85 medical assessments coordinated, 60 therapeutic referrals made, and 8,812 community participants received child abuse education. Even more staggering is that out of the 443 children receiving Harmony House services 38 percent were six years old or younger, 39 percent were from the ages of seven to 12, and 23 percent were from the ages of 13 to 18. Furthermore, 95 of these children, or almost 22 percent, had some form of developmental disabilities such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism.
National statistics highlight the tragedy of child abuse and neglect:
- Over three million reports of known or suspected child abuse are made every year in the United States (Childhelp) with a report being made approximately every 10 seconds (Childhelp).
- More than five children die every day as a result of child abuse (United States Government of Accountability Office, 2011) with an estimated 80 percent under the age of four (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2010).
- During 2010, children's advocacy centers, like our local Harmony House, served over 266,000 child victims of abuse by providing advocacy and support to these children and their family members and the number served was 279,000 in 2011 (National Children's Alliance).
- A typical sex offender molests an average of 117 victims (National Institute of Mental Health).
- Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions, and all levels of education (Childhelp).
Child maltreatment occurs in many different forms including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional/verbal abuse, physical neglect, medical neglect, emotional neglect, and educational neglect. The effects can be both short-term and long- term.
Short-term effects can include self-blame, guilt, shame, anger, anxiety, aggression, fears, sexually acting out, sleep disturbances, dissociation, psychosomatic complaints (headaches, stomachs), regressive behaviors, and depression.
Long-term consequences can vary but may include mental health disorders, suicidal thoughts, illogical thinking, hostility, physical injuries, neurological damage, hypertension, migraines, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, developmental delays, criminal offending including sexually abusing others, lower overall school performances, inappropriate sexual behaviors, eating disorders, difficulty in trusting others, relationship problems, shattered sense of self, self-disgust, less interest in spiritual beliefs, repeat sexual victimization, maltreatment of own children, and spousal violence.
Each child is different and effects can vary. There are factors that can affect child maltreatment. These include length of abuse, severity of abuse, relationship of abuser to abused, access to treatment, and the resiliency of the child victim.
What can we do to strengthen our community's response to the tragic problem of child maltreatment?
The following Harmony House suggestions could make a difference in the lives of our children and our community as a whole:
- Learn the signs and symptoms of child abuse and neglect.
- Listen to what children are saying. See what children are doing. Be aware of any situation that doesn't seem right.
- Teach your children that they have a right to be free from abuse and if someone is harming them it is OK to tell regardless who the person is.
- Report known or suspected abuse to local law enforcement and to Belmont County Department of Job and Family Services (Ohio) and W.Va. DHHR (West Virginia).
- Volunteer your time and your talents to help agencies dedicated to helping give a voice to children alleging abuse.
- Work to ensure your community has specialized mental health and medical treatment for abused children.
- When you vote be informed about child abuse issues and laws that may impact the well-being of our children and community.
- Be supportive of federal, state, and local needs to fund initiatives dealing with child abuse victims.
- Participate in public awareness and prevention activities focusing on child abuse.
- Break the silence that permeates child abuse.
We must all work together to let others know that crimes against our children will not be tolerated. When someone deliberately harms a child it's every person's business and it affects the safety and well-being of all.
Working together we can strengthen our community's response to child abuse. Working together we can give children hope that when the silence is broken and they come forward, they will be treated with dignity and respect. Working together we can ensure assessments, investigations, interventions, and treatment are appropriate for each child alleging abuse or neglect.
Ohio Valley, there are hundreds of our children trying to survive child abuse and neglect. Each year Harmony House sees their faces and hears their voices telling their stories. You may know one of them. Please learn about the dynamics of these crimes against children. If you know or suspect abuse, be a child's voice and report it.
If you would like more information about child abuse or would like to learn more about Harmony House, Children' s Advocacy Center, please call (304) 230.2205 (Ohio and Marshall Counties, WV) or (740) 695.0812 (Belmont County, OH).
On behalf of the children we so humbly serve, thank you for caring,