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Preventing Child Abuse Through Better Parenting Skills, More Reporting

Monday, April 12, 2021

Story about child abuse prevention. Photo is of child playing in red and white shirt playing with toys.The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened family stress, putting children at greater risk of being abused and neglected. Isolation, loss of jobs, schools operating in crisis mode, and sickness and death from the virus have taken a heavy toll, especially in families already struggling.

“Families need a support network, especially during a prolonged crisis,” NewBridge Services CEO Michelle Borden said. During National Child Abuse Prevention Month, NewBridge is highlighting information to help parents and the wider community identify and address child abuse and neglect.

“Parents who develop healthy problem-solving skills and have access to resources can navigate difficult times successfully,” said Borden, a licensed clinical social worker and disaster response crisis counselor. In 2020, NewBridge’s Child and Family Services helped 259 abused and neglected children and their families heal and stay intact.

Child protection agencies across the nation received fewer reports of abuse and neglect over the past year, but experts believe that is the result of children having less contact with teachers, doctors and social workers trained to recognize signs. A study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that while overall emergency room visits dipped between March and September 2020, the proportion of visits related to child abuse and neglect actually rose.

Even before the pandemic, nearly 1 in 9 children in the U.S. were victims of child abuse and neglect. The most recent count was 656,000, according to the federal “Child Maltreatment 2019” report.

These are risk factors:

  • Parenthood at a young age, and without a support system
  • Lack of understanding about normal child development that can cause anger and frustration toward the child
  • Poverty, unstable housing, unemployment and divorce, all which cause stress on families
  • Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs
  • A parent’s history of being abused as a child

According to the New Jersey Kids Count Dashboard, authorities substantiated findings of abuse and neglect of 4,897 children in 2019. Under state law, everyone has an obligation to report suspected acts of child abuse or neglect.

Abuse can be physical, sexual, or emotion. The majority of confirmed cases are neglect, in which children’s basic physical and emotional needs — housing, food, clothing, education, and access to medical care — are not met.

Signs that child neglect may be occurring include:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Weight loss
  • Physical/medical problems that go unaddressed
  • School absenteeism

Signs that physical abuse may be occurring include:

  • Unexplained bruises, burns, or welts
  • Injuries that are at different stages of healing
  • Child appears frightened of a parent or caregiver

Signs that a child may be sexually abused include:

  • Knowledge of sex that is age-inappropriate
  • Regressing to behaviors like bedwetting
  • Becoming withdrawn, or clingy
  • Avoidance of a certain person

Signs that a child may be emotionally abused include:

  • Worrying constantly
  • Experiencing delays in learning and emotional development
  • Suffering depression and low self-esteem
  • Doing poorly in school
  • Having unexplained headaches and stomachaches

Anyone who has reason to believe a child is being abused should call the New Jersey Child Abuse Hotline at at 1-877 NJ ABUSE (and 911 if a child is in imminent danger). More information is available here.

The good news is, parents can learn skills to cope with life’s challenges. Several protective factors have been identified that promote effective parenting, reducing the risk of abuse and neglect:

  • Parental resilience
  • Social connections
  • Knowledge of parenting and child development
  • Social and emotional competence of children
  • Concrete support in times of need

“Parents who learn about child development can prepare for and better react to changes in their children’s behaviors as they grow,” Borden said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published a prevention resource guide that highlights ways communities around the country implements prevention efforts.

To contact NewBridge Child and Family Services, call (973) 319-9333 or send a note to services@newbridge.org.

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