As an individual and as a member of your community, you have the power to prevent child abuse and neglect. Here are some ways to contribute your ounceor moreof effort to prevention.
- Understand the problem. Child abuse and neglect affect children of all ages, races, and incomes. According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, in 2001, an estimated 903,000 children nationwide were victims of maltreatment. Most experts believe that actual incidents of abuse and neglect are more numerous than statistics indicate.
- Understand the terms. Child abuse and neglect take more than one form. Federal and State laws address four main types of child maltreatment: physical abuse, physical or emotional neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Often more than one type of abuse or neglect occurs within families. Some types of maltreatment, such as emotional abuse, are much harder to substantiate than others, such as physical abuse.
- Understand the causes. Most parents don't hurt or neglect their children intentionally. Many were themselves abused or neglected. Very young or inexperienced parents might not know how to take care of their babies or what they can reasonably expect from children at different stages of development. Circumstances that place families under extraordinary stress - for instance, poverty, divorce, sickness, disability - sometimes take their toll in child maltreatment. Parents who abuse alcohol or other drugs are more likely to abuse or neglect their children.
- Support programs that support families. Parent education, community centers, respite care services, and substance abuse treatment programs help to protect children by addressing circumstances that place families at risk for child abuse and neglect. Donate your time or money, if you can.
- Report suspected abuse and neglect. Some States require everyone to report suspected abuse or neglect; others specify members of certain professions, such as educators and doctors. But whether or not you are mandated by law to report child abuse and neglect, doing so may save a child - and a family. If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call the police or your local child welfare agency.
- Spread the word. Help educate others in your community about child abuse and neglect. See the list below for sources of free materials. Ask if you can leave a stack of brochures at your local public library, recreation or community center, government center, or other public place. You also might make material available at your church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other faith institutions. Even grocery stores usually have places to distribute community materials.
- Strengthen the fabric of your community. Know your neighbors' names and the names of their children, and make sure they know yours. Give stressed parents a break by offering to watch their children. Volunteer. If you like interacting with children, great, but you do not have to volunteer directly with kids to contribute to prevention. All activities that strengthen communities, such as service to civic clubs and participation on boards and committees, ultimately contribute to the well-being of children.