At a time when many Americans are preoccupied with the “war of words” between presidential candidates, a different news story captured my attention.
For days, I read everything that I could about it. And the more I read, the sadder and angrier I became.
The story took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and it contains powerful messages about our nation’s most precious and most vulnerable commodity: children.
According to numerous media reports, Victoria Martens, a talented and vibrant little girl, was excited about two things: just starting fourth grade, and having an upcoming birthday party.
But a day after turning 10 years old, Victoria had her dreams destroyed. Her body was found in a bathtub, a grisly scene of blood, abuse and dismemberment.
After recovering the body, police arrested and charged Victoria’s mother, the mother’s boyfriend, and the boyfriend’s female cousin—an ex-convict. Their crimes included injecting Victoria with methamphetamine, sexual assault, and child abuse resulting in death.
Although Victoria’s tragic and heartbreaking story seems like a gross anomaly, the fact remains: child abuse is an epidemic in our world. Child abuse has long-term negative consequences that can lead to mental and physical health problems, eating disorders, poor self-image, low self-esteem, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), suicide, promiscuity, substance abuse, generational cycles of abuse, and as Victoria’s story illustrates, even murder.
As parents, educators, and policymakers, we can and must do something about it. This post will cover the various types of child abuse, as well as the roles we can play in doing something about it.
Identifying the four main types of abuse
The four main categories of child abuse or maltreatment are identified as psychological or emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), neglect is the most common type of abuse, which can include emotional, medical/dental, educational, and physical neglect.
There are many signs and symptoms of child abuse, including:
- Delayed development
- Poor academic performance in school and poor grades
- Suicide attempts
- Running away from home
- Poor hygiene
- Substance Abuse
What should parents & guardians do?
Many child abuse perpetrators share close ties to the victims such as family members (even parents) or a parent’s romantic partners. In light of this, there are many actions that parents or guardians should take in order to prevent or stop abuse from occurring:
- Get educated on good parenting practices, including learning the differences between abuse and discipline. There are many free resources and guides offered in libraries, social services, doctor’s offices and online that parents can utilize.
- Be careful about the adults, teenagers and older children whom are allowed to babysit, spend the night, interact with and take their children on outings.
- Develop strong positive relationships with their children and be able to spot the differences between normal and abnormal behavior, along with any personality changes.
- Familiarize yourself with warning signs and symptoms of abuse.
- Talk to your children about abuse, healthy boundaries and being self-protective. They should also encourage their children to talk openly with them.
- Seek counseling, therapy and assistance from social services, clergy, or reliable family members if you’re stressed or overwhelmed.
What should educators do?
Educators are in a powerful position to help abused children because many of them spend more time with children than the parents. If you are an educator, there are many ways to help abused children, including:
- Familiarizing yourself with warning signs and symptoms of abuse.
- Familiarizing yourself with your school, district, and state guidelines for mandated reporters.
- Reporting suspected cases of child abuse to law enforcement, school leaders, and social services.
- Forming nurturing and supportive professional relationships with students that are based on trust and mutual respect.
- Being strategic about using the curriculum to empower students through resiliency-building strategies, storytelling, required readings, writing assignments, presentations, guest speakers, and projects focusing on individuals who have overcome adversity. (Educators can also embed strategies to overcome adversity, conflict-resolution skill development, and self-esteem building activities into lesson plans on a regular basis.)
- Collaborating with other educators on developing standards-based, grade-level appropriate resiliency-building lesson plans.
- Creating a list of good parenting resources and sharing them with parents during parent-teacher meetings.
What should policymakers do?
Policymakers play a crucial role in protecting children, especially by creating policies aimed at destroying generational cycles of child abuse, providing incentives and implementing programs that promote good parenting practices, and developing policies that keep offenders from re-offending. Some of the things that policymakers can do include:
- Instituting policies that require mandatory parenting classes for all students starting in sixth grade and continuing each year until they graduate high school.
- Providing funding for community and secular organizations to offer parenting classes.
- Providing funding for substance abuse programs for parents and youth.
- Stiffening laws for child abusers.
- Requiring stricter guidelines for individuals to become foster parents.
- Requiring the K-12 curriculum to include units on child abuse.
Abuse is something that should never happen to anyone, much less a child. We must do whatever is within our reach and power to protect our young ones, and provide them with every possible opportunity and resource to become healthy, thriving individuals in our schools and society.
- Building Community, Building Hope
- Child Abuse Education & Prevention Resources
- Child Welfare Information Gateway
- Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect: A Technical Packet for Policy, Norm, and Programmatic Activities
- The Role of Educators in Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect
- WebMD: Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention
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