Child Abuse Prevention: Your Role

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Child Abuse Prevention: Your Role

From children burned with scalding hot water to children kept in dog crates, I have seen the worst of humanity and all right here in our beloved country.

I wish I could say that every part of being a pediatric nurse is amazing, but that would be far from the truth. If I were to talk detail I am sure you wouldn’t get through this post with a dry eye or angrier than you’d ever imagine you could be about children you’ve never met. I am asked . . . more like told by people on a constant basis that they don’t know how I or any of us can do what we do. To me it’s very simple, I love children and this is the way God lead me to help them. I’ve wanted to be a pediatric nurse since I was a child myself. Never did I imagine one day I’d be put in the situation where I’d have to take an innocent battered child from its weeping mother’s arms while mom’s boyfriend (the alleged abuser) sat next to her, putting on a show of innocence for all to see.

Child abuse runs rampant in this country and though I am a mandatory reporter, that doesn’t mean that mandatory reporters are the only ones who should report.

Reporting a possible child abuse case may feel really intrusive and uncomfortable, but you may be the only person stepping in to protect that child. I had the pleasure of speaking with one of the most dedicated social workers at my hospital and we’ve come up with some ways to identify situations that may need intervention. We discussed when to intervene, how you can intervene, and what you can do to help protect your own children from abuse.

When it comes to children you don’t know, intervention can seem especially uncomfortable. But, if you see something concerning then please, please, say something. Let’s say you’re at the grocery store and you encounter a tense situation involving a child and parent that raises a red flag in the back of your mnid, you may feel the need to intervene. You don’t need to cause a scene, but empathizing with the parent, letting them know that the situation looks stressful, and asking if there’s anything you can do to help is a simple way to diffuse a tense situation and bring attention to it. If a child who is familiar to you looks hungry, disheveled, or appears to have bruising or other injuries that are abnormal (i.e the face, ears, etc.) this may be a reason to ask a question or to report a suspected situation where the child may be in danger.

Having said that, please always use your judgement and any available contextual information in each individual circumstance. For example, if you know little Johnny across the street fell off his bike and hit his chin and now has a bruise, please do not call the authorities on his parents. For those of us who have children, we all know that bruises and childhood can be a package deal, but be aware if something looks out of the ordinary.

You know when something doesn’t feel right and deserves some attention. Of course, if there is any situation that is an emergency, call 911.

When it comes to your own children, the thought of someone abusing them seems too much to bear. The possibility of your child being a victim just makes you sick to your stomach, but don’t let that deter you from educating them. You want your children to be empowered to speak up when something is wrong. And not just talk to you, but telling them that teachers, nurses, doctors, and police officers are safe to talk also. No subject should be off limits. Talking detail allows your children to know it’s okay to talk about those things and they can tell you anything, no matter how embarrassing. Parts of their body covered by a swimsuit is a good way to describe what is off limits. Explaining that mommy and daddy may touch these parts when they are taking a bath or if they need help going to the bathroom is acceptable. Of course any other regular caregivers should be included in this.  Read here for more body-safety rules you may want to consider establishing in your household.

When looking for a daycare, you want to go in with lots of questions during your tour. How many adults are in the classroom and what are their qualifications? What is their policy on infant safety? How do they report injuries to your child? What training do their employees receive regarding disciplinary actions? Then there are sleepovers. These are great childhood rights of passage, but there should be some questions addressed to the adult holding the sleepover. If your child spends lots of time at a friends house, you need to know the parents. You want to know how many adults are in the home and who they are. How about if there are any weapons in the home. During a sleep over you want to know where your children will be sleeping and if they are young enough to need help to the bathroom, who is responsible for those duties.

Never be afraid to speak up, ask questions, and step in to keep children safe.

It takes a village to raise our children. Protect them with a village as well.

If you suspect child abuse or neglect, please call your local law enforcement. Or, if you reside in Colorado, call the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline:  1-844-CO-4-KIDS

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