We Must Work Together to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

The Pinwheel is the symbol for Prevent Child Abuse America. Photo by Matt HowellThe Pinwheel is the symbol for Prevent Child Abuse America. Photo by Matt Howell

April is child abuse prevention month

By Eric M. Hoffman, Prosecuting Attorney—

MUNCIE, IN—In his New York Times best seller, A Child Called It, author Dave Peltzer said that “childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.”Unfortunately, we know all too well that doesn’t always happen. A report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services noted that in the Federal Fiscal Year 2022 in the United States, approximately 559,000 children became victims of child abuse. This is a national rate of 7.7 victims per 1,000 children in the population. To place that number into context, that is enough children to fill nearly every seat in the 6 largest NCAA football stadiums. While that number is daunting, it does show a slight decrease in victimization since Federal Fiscal Year 2019.

According to the same report, an estimated 1,990 children died of abuse and neglect at a rate of 2.73 per 100,000 children in the population. That averages out to roughly 5 children each and every day. This is an increase from 2019. These figures are staggering, gut-wrenching, and unacceptable. In very recent history, our own community has been rocked by tragic and senseless child fatalities. Those include, but are not limited to, Lauren McConniel, Marie Pierre, and Jensen Wallace. Our community will never forget each of you.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan declared April Child Abuse Prevention Month. Every year since, the nation has come together to bring awareness to the child abuse epidemic plaguing our country. This year, President Biden issued a Proclamation that states in part “There is no greater sin than the abuse of power, especially when that abuse is directed at a child. During National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we stand together to prevent abuse and neglect, support brave survivors, and build strong communities and families where every child can grow up happy and safe. Every child in America deserves to grow up safe, supported, and surrounded by love. This month, we remember that we all play a part in making that real.”

Child Abuse Prevention Month provides an opportunity each year to learn about the signs of child abuse and how to prevent it. Communities around the nation come together to support families and children by reinforcing strategies that are working. In order to adequately protect children and prevent abuse, we must acknowledge that child abuse and neglect come in manyforms. Child abuse refers to affirmative acts by a perpetrator which include words or actions that cause physical, sexual or psychological harm, potential harm, or threat of harm to a child. Child neglect refers to acts of omission, meaning the failure to provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional or educational needs or to protect a child from harm or potential harm.

 While most forms of child abuse and neglect are readily identifiable and acknowledged, there are subtle types that may go unnoticed. This includes Abusive Head Trauma (otherwise known as Shaken Baby Syndrome), bed-sharing and other unsafe sleep practices with infants.There are effective prevention programs that prevent these forms of abuse and neglect. For example, the PURPLE Crying program is an evidence-based Shaken Baby Syndrome prevention program available since 2007. The program approaches Shaken Baby Syndrome prevention by helping parents and caregivers understand the frustrating features of crying in normal, healthy infants that can lead to shaking or abuse.

The program provides the opportunity for parents to learn about the crying characteristics from over 50 years of research on normal infant crying conducted by scientists worldwide. Make no mistake about it, shaking a child can irreparably harm a child. Approximately 25% of children who have been shaken die from their injuries. Among the survivors, approximately 60% are left with neurologic effects ranging from mild learning disorders to persistent vegetative states. Additionally the ABC’s ofthe safe sleep initiative seeks to reduce infant fatalities due to unsafe sleep practices. Infants and babies should always sleep Alone, on their Backs, and in a safe Crib. Sleeping with the infant in an adult bed can result in the fatal smothering of an infant. Contrary to the belief of some, sleeping in an adult bed with your infant or, engaging in other unsafe sleep practices is, by definition, child neglect. Despite the wide spread availability of these prevention programs, locally we continue to see these types of child abuse and neglect.

As someone who has personally prosecuted many child abuse and child fatality cases, I firmly believe the vast majority of child abuse and neglect cases result from conditions that can be prevented through community programs, support, and intervention. Child abuse prevention is possible through partnerships among families, social service and healthcare organizations, schools, religious and civic groups, law enforcement agencies, and the entire community devoted to the safety of our children. In every single child fatality case that I have prosecuted, I am convinced beyond all doubt that the deaths were preventable. How you may ask? In every one of those cases there was at least one person who knew what was going on, yet did nothing. Had those persons reported, those innocent children would be alive today.

April is an opportunity to remind the public that each and every one of us have an absolute legal duty to immediately report suspected child abuse or neglect. Failure to do so, may subject you to arrest, prosecution, and up to 180 days imprisonment in jail. I challenge and encourage everyone in our community to join me and stand up for children— we must protect those who cannot protect themselves.

If you suspect that a child is or has been the victim of child abuse or neglect you must immediately call the child abuse hotline at 1-800-800-5556, or make a report through your local law enforcement agency. Pick up the phone, make a report. Not only are you legally required to do so, but you just might save a child’s life.