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Shining a Light on Identifying/Preventing Child Maltreatment

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Child with pinwheel and a message about preventing child maltreatment. Child maltreatment is a pervasive problem, with an estimated 600,000 children in the U.S. either abused or neglected, according to the Administration for Children and Families.

For 40 years, April has been designated National Child Abuse Prevention Month to raise awareness. NewBridge Services’ Child and Family Services plays a key role in helping families recover from abuse and neglect through counseling for both children and parents and caregiver training. In 2022, NewBridge helped 687 families heal.

“It is imperative that parents and caretakers develop problem-solving skills, and understand child development so they can prepare for children’s changing behaviors as they grow,” said Denise Geffke-Ramos, director of NewBridge’s CFS. NewBridge works with families referred by the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency.

Abuse and neglect are among adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) linked to chronic health problems, substance abuse, and mental illness in adolescence and adulthood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Neglect is far more prevalent than physical, sexual or psychological abuse.

Child maltreatment risk factors include:
  • 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
  • Isolation and lack of family and community support
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  • Becoming withdrawn, or clingy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

Communities can help fight child abuse and neglect by advocating for programs and policies that reduce poverty and increase education and training opportunities, NewBridge CEO Michelle Borden said. “And, of course, anyone who witnesses any form of child abuse or has reason to suspect it must speak up,” Borden said.

By law in New Jersey, everyone has an obligation to report suspected abuse or neglect. Reports can be made to the New Jersey Child Abuse Hotline at 1-877 NJ ABUSE. (Use 911 if a child is in imminent danger.) More information is available here. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the 2023/2024 Prevention Resource Guide that outlines protective factors that help children and parents build resilience.

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