Abuse is a tragic reality for many children across the state. And while it's difficult to comprehend the why's and how's, there is action that adults can take to prevent bad situations from escalating to something worse.
New abuse and neglect allegations hit 100,000 for the first time, according to a report released this month by the Public Children Services Association of Ohio. Allegations increased 16 percent in Franklin County from 2005 to 2007.
Everyone knows the signs: unexplained bruising, sudden changes in behavior, children left alone for long periods of time. In those cases, Pat Lyons, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Ohio, recommends calling for help.
"When someone suspects abuse, they don't have to witness it, they don't need to investigate," she said. "You don't have to have the information. You're a citizen making a call for the welfare of a child."
And that call can be anonymous.
It is also possible for an individual to diffuse a bad situation before it escalates, Lyons said. Especially if they notice that a parent is having a particularly difficult time.
If you see a parent struggling "just going up and asking, 'Is there anything I can help you with? Is there anyone I can call for you?' takes the parent's attention off the child for a second," Lyons said. It's important not to put the parent on the defensive, she added. Making threats or judgments won't help either.
But a calm word at a tense moment and an offer of help may make the difference for a child.
"Most parents do want assistance -- even if they don't know how to accept it," said Lyons. "Parents don't sign up to abuse their kids."Indicators of Neglect
Physical Indicators of Neglect:Height and weight significantly below age level Unsuitable clothing, missing key articles of clothing such as socks, shoes, or a coat Untreated illness or injury Chronic uncleanliness or poor hygiene including lice, scabies, severe or untreated diaper rash
Behavioral Indicators of Neglect:Vandalism or delinquency Assuming adult responsibilities Unusual school attendance (frequent or chronic absence, lateness, coming to school early or leaving late) Begging or collecting leftovers Chronic hunger, tiredness or lethargy
Source: Prevent Child Abuse OhioIndicators of Physical Abuse
Physical Indicators:Other unexplained or repeated injuries Unexplained burns Unexplained, chronic or repeated bruising
Behavioral Indicators:Antisocial behavior, such as substance abuse, truancy or running away Depression, excessive crying Attempt to hide injuries Unusual shyness, wariness of physical contact Excessive fear of the parent or caregiver Behavioral extremes (withdrawal, aggression, regression)
Source: Prevent Child Abuse OhioIndicators of Sexual Abuse
Physical Indicators:Frequent, unexplained sore throats, yeast or urinary infections Torn, stained or bloody underclothes Genital discharge Bruises or bleeding from external genitals, vagina or anal region Pregnancy Sexually transmitted diseases Somatic complaints, including pain and irritation of the genitals
Behavioral Indicators:In young children, preoccupation with his/her sexual organs, his/her parents' or other children's Sudden decline in school performance Recurrent nightmares, disturbed sleep patterns, or fear of the dark Reluctance to participate in recreational activity Substance abuse Prostitution Truancy or chronic running away Aggression or delinquency Promiscuity or seductive behavior Sudden changes in behavior Regressive behaviors, such as thumb sucking, bedwetting, fear of the dark Poor peer relationships, inability to relate to children of same age
Source: Prevent Child Abuse OhioIndicators of Emotional Abuse
Physical Indicators:Nervous disorders such as hives, rashes, facial tics, or stomachaches Flat or bald spots on infant's head Weight or height significantly below the norm Speech disorders, such as stuttering Eating Disorders
Behavioral Indicators:Fire setting Substance abuse, excessive risk taking, suicide attempts, prostitution, delinquency Cruel behavior to other children or animals Self-Isolation Poor relations with peers Regressive behaviors, such as thumb sucking, "baby talk" etc. Habit disorders, such as biting, rocking, head banging
Source: Prevent Child Abuse OhioWho to call If it's an emergency, call 911 Prevent Child Abuse Ohio, 614-722-6800 or 1-800-CHILDREN or contact the Parent Resource Line at 614-224-CARE (2273). Franklin County Children Services, 614-275-2571 Delaware County Department of Job and Family Services, 740-833-2306 Fairfield County Department of Job and Family Services, 740-653-4060 Pickaway County Department of Job and Family Services, 740-474-7588 Licking County Department of Job and Family Services, 740-670-8999 Madison County Department of Job and Family Services, 740-852-4770 Union County Department of Job and Family Services, 937-644-1010 Links to groups that can help Prevent Child Abuse Ohio Public Children Services Association of Ohio