Preventing Child Abuse requires a societal
Abilene, TX – Being a parent is not easy.
There is no handbook, no how-to guide.
There are no rules, no regulations, no role models every parent can embody.
INTERVENE TO LESSEN HARM
The effects of child maltreatment can be long-term and even lifelong, according the Adverse Childhood Experiences study originally conducted by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente in the late 1990s.
“They found the effects of child abuse and neglect were actually lifelong, where individuals had problems with cardiovascular health, diabetes, with links to other common illnesses in adulthood,” Fortson said. “It’s important, whenever possible, to try to get treatment early.”
But one of the greatest challenges in getting children treatment is a lack of qualified professionals with the skills necessary to help resolve the issues that arise with child maltreatment, she said.
Therapy that addresses the behavioral consequences of abuse and neglect has been shown to reduce the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other trauma-related symptoms, such as fear, sexualized behavior, anxiety, shame and behavioral issues, according to the package.
“Making sure individuals get the right sort of treatment is important,” Fortson said. “Play therapy is not the type of treatment that has the most evidence in preventing the negative effects or helping kids long-term. But there’s often a shortage of therapists and individuals who can provide those types of treatment.”
Play therapy is where children act out what they are going through by playing in a room set up strategically with toys as they are observed by a licensed professional counselor.
The Regional Victim Crisis Center in Abilene has a therapeutic play room with a dollhouse, puppets, art supplies and various other toys.
“All of the toys have specific themes that we, as the children play, observe and interact, but we’re really seeing what themes they play out, whether they are themes of aggression or revenge, themes of nurturing or trying to master some skills,” said Stormi James, an LPC at the center. “You can really see what kids are processing because that’s the way kids process is through play.”
Sometimes, the children act out the events that have happened to them, ones they have been told not to talk about, James said. The therapists tell them it’s not their fault, that this is a safe place where they can say whatever they want.
“This isn’t like other play,” she said. “They don’t get in trouble. They get redirected.”
Programs that aim to reach children outside of the child welfare system, such as the Safe Environment for Every Kid program, can prevent child abuse and neglect and ensure that children receive appropriate medical care, Fortson said.
“Because we know that a lot of kids may not come to the attention of child welfare early on, this program has the potential to get individuals in a place where they might go already,” she said. “It’s implemented in primary care settings, and it’s for when people go to see their primary care physician.”
Pediatricians are trained to ask questions related to child maltreatment risk factors and can identify families at-risk and refer them to services that have helped reduce recurrences of physical assault. Additionally, they can make sure children follow-up with immunizations and other basic medical care.
IDENTIFY AT-RISK FAMILIES
With child maltreatment, you can’t really look at parents and say they are going to abuse their children, Fortson said.
But there are many risk factors, on an individual, family and community level, that have been identified.
Domestic or intimate partner violence puts children in the home at “gravely higher risks” of abuse and neglect, either from the abusing spouse or the victim spouse, Greeley said. Recognizing those families and providing services for them is another way to prevent child maltreatment.
Leigh Ann Fry, executive director of the Noah Project, a domestic violence shelter and advocacy center in Abilene, created the Abilene-Taylor County Alliance to End Family Violence to address this problem. She reached out to judges, district attorneys, police, sheriff’s office, CPS, the Attorney General’s Office and any other groups somehow connected to family violence and child abuse. The group began meeting in November 2015.
“There is a direct correlation between family violence and child abuse. It’s very rare if a mom is being beaten that the children are not in some way being impacted,” she said. “Family violence crimes in Abilene-Taylor County are just through the roof.”
The most challenging part of domestic violence situations is the fact that the law still allows the father to have access to the children, Fry said, which puts the mother in more danger because he is the person who beat, choked or stalked her.
A woman who came to the Noah Project from outside Taylor County revealed that the father had molested their child, and both CPS and the Child Advocacy Center confirmed there was abuse, she said. But the judge in this other county Fry would not identify did not believe CPS and allowed the father unfettered access to the child.
“That mom went back because it was the only way she could protect that child,” Fry said. “She will say to your face ‘I cannot leave because if I leave he will molest my child.’ That’s what they’re up against right there. That mom was a soldier and just went straight back into battle. She straightened her shoulders, and she took a deep breath and off she went . And we just stood and collectively wept because there was not one single thing we could do.”
Risk Factors for Victimization
Individual Risk Factors
- Children younger than 4 years of age
- Special needs that may increase caregiver burden (disabilities, mental retardation, mental health issues, and chronic physical illnesses)
Risk Factors for Perpetration
Individual Risk Factors
- Parents’ lack of understanding of children’s needs, child development and parenting skills
- Parents’ history of child maltreatment in family of origin
- Substance abuse and/or mental health issues including depression in the family
- Parental characteristics such as young age, low education, single parenthood, large number of dependent children, and low-income
- Nonbiological, transient caregivers in the home (mother’s male partner)
- Parental thoughts and emotions that tend to support or justify maltreatment behaviors
Family Risk Factors
- Social isolation
- Family disorganization, dissolution and violence, including intimate partner violence
- Parenting stress, poor parent-child relationships, and negative interactions
Community Risk Factors
- Community violence
- Concentrated neighborhood disadvantage (high poverty and residential instability, high unemployment rates, and high density of alcohol outlets), and poor social connections.