Let’s end child abuse in our generation

Dr. Jessica Hodson, who practices in the Emergency Department at Riverwood Healthcare Center, shares information and her opinions on what we can do to prevent child abuse.

Child abuse crosses all demographics and includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse in addition to neglect. This is a horrible problem worldwide but appalling that it is still occurring in our country. As a community, we have a responsibility to protect our children, which extends to also helping the parents who are at risk of hurting them.

Nationwide, the highest rate of abuse is among children under 3 years old, specifically under 1 year at 25% per 1,000. In 2017, it was reported that five children die every day from abuse and neglect, and in those fatalities 80% involved a parent.  For those children who do survive these horrific events, 90% of them know the perpetrator and 78% of the time it is an adult. Unfortunately, the consequences are life- long and can be devastating for the child, siblings, family and community.

We currently have a mental health crisis and yet 80% of 21-year-olds who were abused as children have at least once psychological disorder. Unfortunately, this can be a horrible cycle as 30% of children who were abused then go on to abuse children.

Child sexual abuse affects one in four girls and one in six boys before the age of 18.  Again, adults are the major perpetrators; we need to break this cycle.  We could dramatically fix this by intervening NOW. Children need to be given a voice and allowed to speak without fear of worsening violence. They need to know that we will believe them and protect them.

It is often hard to talk about this with children, sometimes too awful to hear.  But remember, however hard it is for you to hear, it is so much worse for them to live through and come forward. The psychological consequences are complex; children depend on adults for food, shelter, protection and love and at the same time a parent or caregiver can also be the person who hurts or neglects them. It is not always easy for them to break away from that and often scary for them to think of being taken away from everything they know.

Since 1983, April has been designated as National Child Abuse Prevention month, and here we are 36 years later still having a crisis. We can do better, let us end these horrific acts and be the generation that ends child abuse.  I urge every adult to be an advocate for children and not think “oh someone else will intervene” or “it’s not my place to tell someone how to parent”. You can make an anonymous report to the local county’s social services office. If you know a parent who is stressed and struggling, reach out to them and encourage them to get help or be an ear for them to vent instead of hurting or neglecting a child.

If you are an adult who was abused as a child and are struggling please to reach out, there are physicians and counselors who are glad to help and available.  We would much rather help prevent abuse or neglect, but it is never too late to try and make a change.

Those who feel they are at risk of abusing a child may call the Crisis Line at 800-462-5525 or the Childhelp National Child Abuse hotline at 800-422-4453 for assistance with stressors and someone to talk to in the moment.  Aitkin County Health and Human Services is a local resource with mental health counselors available when calling 218-927-7200.

As a parent of two young boys, I know parenting is hard and I get it! We have all had those moments when you are at your wit’s end.  The best advice I can give is to make sure your child is in a safe place, take a step away and breathe.  Come back when you are calm or ask someone you trust to come over and watch them so you can step away.  Life is stressful, but it is not our children’s fault nor should they be the target of an adult’s frustration.

Children are our future, and every one of them deserves love and support to grow up in a safe environment. The concept of “it takes a village” really does ring true on this topic. Children have enough risks of injury without adults being one of them.

In Aitkin County, there is a Child Abuse Prevention Council (CAPC) with representatives from social services, the sheriff’s department, county attorney’s office, area schools, HOPE, Support Within Reach, and community members. New members are always welcome.  To learn more or get involved, call Jessi Schultz, CAPC chair, at 218-927-7200.