April is Child Abuse Prevention Month: How can you help?

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

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 Ohio

Indicators 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 Ohio

Indicators 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 Ohio

Indicators 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 Ohio

Who 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