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Child Abuse Prevention Comes Into Focus During the Month of April

 In Abuse Types, Abusive Behaviors, Family Violence, Native Teens and Youth

When we think of April, we think of Springtime and a season of cleansing rains and warming temperatures. We think of rebirth and old vines becoming new. April is a perfect time to acknowledge National Child Abuse Prevention Month highlighting the welfare of children. It’s an opportunity to appreciate the beauty and fragility of young lives and to discover how best to nurture them.

The purpose of raising public awareness is to remind parents and families that there are resources for parents struggling with parenting skills. Parenting isn’t easy. It doesn’t come naturally as one would think that it does or should. Obviously, human beings thrive by having an innate and strong will to survive. That said, not everyone thrives. Especially children who are at risk of child abuse. 

Child Abuse Statistics Are On The Rise

Last year, an estimated 678,000 children were found to be victims of child abuse or neglect nationwide.(1) This number only reflects the children whose situation was reported. Of course, we know that is just the tip of the iceberg and those statistics are just a fraction of the millions of reported cases – not to mention unreported cases. 

In 2018, child protective services received 4.3 million reports concerning the safety and well-being of approximately 7.8 million children.1  Of those reports, an estimated 1,770 children died from abuse and neglect which is an 11.3 percent increase from the 2014 national estimate of 1,591.(1)

Native American Suffrage and Perspective

Native Americans are people who have suffered a long history of trauma and abuse. It is a testament to the resilience that Native Americans have survived at all. The ramifications of the decimation and abuse that came with the colonization of the Americas and of the horrific assimilation are still felt today.  

Native Americans have always known that it takes a village to raise a child. We know that parenting isn’t easy and that all parents need some form of support. That is why in Indian Country there is very little difference between who we see as immediate and extended family. In the past and even today, children were taken in by the extended family. It was the way things were done to ensure the survival of the poor and underprivileged. 

Effects of Domestic Violence and Abuse 

In 2014, Michigan State University professors conducted a study that linked the abuse of pregnant women with emotional and behavioral trauma symptoms in their children. Professors concluded that stress hormones being continuously released during pregnancy also increases stress hormones within the fetus. Symptoms of the newborn baby may include nightmares, startling easily, sensitivity to loud noises and bright lights, avoiding physical contact and difficulty experiencing enjoyment.

“Cortisol is a neurotoxic, so it has damaging effects on the brain when elevated to excessive levels,” said Alytia Levendosky psychology professor and co-author of a study. “That might explain the emotional problems for the baby after birth.”(2) 

Children born into families experiencing domestic violence will also suffer through witnessing and/or experiencing domestic violence first hand. Violence can even be normalized. Children who witness domestic violence may learn the behavior and believe that it is a natural form of expression. It doesn’t matter the severity of domestic violence. What matters is that without intervention and without a great deal of effort, violence is perpetuated and has life long effects. Click here for a helpful tip sheet about how Parenting and Coping Skills Can Grow.

If you or someone you know and care about is a victim of domestic violence, help is available. To explore your options for safety and healing, call StrongHearts Native Helpline at 1-844-7NATIVE (1-844-762-8483) daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CST. Callers reaching out after hours may connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) by selecting option one.

  1. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2019). Child Maltreatment 2018.
  2. Chittister, Robyn, How Exposure To Domestic Violence Affects Brain Development in Children | Domestic Violence Awareness Month Children exposed to domestic violence, though not physically abused, do experience mental trauma. October 17, 2016 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/12/141216100628.htm
  3. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2019). Child Maltreatment 2018.
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