April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month -- a designation that calls attention to the fact that child abuse is a major problem in our country, our state and our community.
Up to five children die every day in the United States as a result of abuse, according to Childhelp. The majority are under the age of 4.
In Vermont, child sexual abuse is the most frequently reported and founded form of child abuse, according to Prevent Child Abuse Vermont.
Part of the process of preventing abusive behavior toward children is creating awareness of the fact that it is happening, to what degree, and determining how we can help to prevent it.
Although child abuse is often kept hidden from view, a shameful secret, this month we may see some positive visible reminders that it continues to happen on a daily basis. Some of those reminders come in the form of a sparkling blue pinwheels that may be planted around town to signify a child abuse victim or a vibrant blue awareness ribbon on someone’s lapel -- the symbols of National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
An average of 130 children each year receive support for sexual abuse through the nonprofit Bennington County Child Advocacy Center and Special Investigations Unit, according to Joy Kitchell, executive director. Her guest column on the topic may be found on the other side of this page.
The BCCAC/SIU brings together representatives of law enforcement, the State’s Attorneys Office, Department of Children and Families, victim advocacy and the medical and mental health communities, to provide a safe, child-friendly location for interviewing alleged victims of sexual abuse/sexual assault, according to its website, www.vtbccac.com.
Kitchell says 10 percent -- or about 735 -- of Bennington County children under the age of 18 have been sexually abused.
Nationally, the percentage of abused children is much higher: One out of three girls and one out of five boys will be sexually abused before they reach age 18, according to DoSomething.org
Thankfully there are resources in place in the local community to help victims of child abuse and their families.
Another of today’s guest columns is by Lori Yunger, former case coordinator for the BCCAC who continues to serve on the center’s Multidisciplinary Team as a family advocate worker for Sunrise Family Resource Center. Yunger said when child victims of sexual abuse tell their stories, their path to finding a life without abuse is never easy.
So what can we, as community members, be doing to prevent child abuse in all its forms?
Here are 10 ways adapted from a list issued by Childhelp:
1) Be a nurturing parent, which involves meeting a child’s basic physical needs as well as consistently seeking to meet his or her emotional needs.
2) Offer help to a friend, neighbor or relative who are struggling with parenting -- especially if they seem over-stressed.
3) Parents, remember to seek help for yourself and de-stress when necessary. Ask a trusted friend or family member to provide a break for you occasion.
4) When your baby cries, try be patient. Never shake a baby, which can result in severe injury and even death.
5) Tell others about child abuse resources in your community and services like the National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-4-A-CHILD).
6) If you are a parent who feels like they have wisdom and experiences to share, help to develop parenting resources at places like the local library.
7) Monitor your child’s media intake, including television, YouTube videos, movies, social media activity, and texting. Watching violent films and shows can be desensitizing to older children and teens.
8) Help the local schools be the source of education about child abuse.
9) Volunteer at a local child abuse prevention program.
10) If you suspect abuse, report it. If you are being abused, don’t stay silent. Anyone can call the National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at no cost, anonymously. Certified counselors are there to assist callers with deciding what the next step is.