Economic stress may contribute to recent increase in child abuse

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Child abuse and neglect is increasing in our community. While abuse is not defined by income level, we do know that economic stress can have a disproportionate impact on children.

Parents who are worried about paying the rent or feeding their children often may feel isolated and frustrated. Without support, some parents reach a breaking point and lash out at their children. It is important to be aware of the impact the downturn of the economy has had on the overall health and safety of children in central Ohio and to identify and help those children who are at risk.

Historically, economic hardships often corresponded to an increase in child maltreatment. In 2008, physicians at the Center for Child and Family Advocacy (CCFA) provided more in-patient consultations for suspected abuse and neglect than any year since Nationwide Children's Hospital has been compiling data. Child abuse also was the leading cause of injury-related death in 2008.

No specific test can determine if a child is at risk. However, when parents lose employment, are stressed, feel isolated, or experience substance abuse or domestic violence, the risk to their children can increase. This does not mean that every parent who loses a job is going to abuse hhis or her children. Many parents who lose employment have support networks and, more importantly, coping skills that allow them to be patient parents even when they experience high levels of stress. The important point for all of us is to be aware and willing to readily provide support.

"When the stress of economic realities clashes with the challenges of raising a child, even parents who have the best intentions can harm or neglect their children," said Yvette McGee Brown, president of the CCFA at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "The best way to prevent child abuse and neglect is to provide parents with the support, skills and resources they need to be effective caregivers, particularly during this difficult time."

It also is essential for parents to be mindful of the risks for child maltreatment within their immediate surroundings and community. By taking the right approach, we can help parents who may be stressed. "If you know of families or friends who are experiencing high levels of stress, look for ways to help alleviate the tension," McGee Brown said. "Offer to watch their children for a few hours, invite them over for dinner, or stop by for a visit to give them support."

If parents are having difficulties dealing with stress, they can contact Help Me Grow at (614) 722-8200, a resource of the CCFA at Nationwide Children's Hospital. The CCFA is the first facility of its kind in the United States to bring together a comprehensive range of programs and services that are directed toward the intervention and prevention of child abuse and family violence.

Tips

How to help ease tension in a public place

  • If a parent is having difficulties with a child, strike up a conversation with the adult to divert attention away from the child.
  • Try to get the child's attention by talking to him or her.
  • Avoid negative remarks or looks. These can increase the parent's anger and make matters worse.
  • Praise the child and parent at the first opportunity.
  • If a child is left unattended, stand by the child until the parent returns, or contact a nearby employee.
  • If you suspect abuse, call your local Children Services agency.
  • If the situation is violent, or if a child is in danger, call 911.

How to cool down in a moment of anger

  • Take a few deep breaths. Remember, you are the adult.
  • Close your eyes and imagine what your child is about to hear.
  • Press your lips together and count to 10.
  • Put some space between you and your child.
  • Turn on some music and sing along.
  • Drink a glass of cold water.
  • Call a friend.

Watch Pediatric HealthSource at 5 p.m. Thursdays on 10TV News HD.

Each month, Pediatric HealthSource shares the latest treatment and research advancements from Nationwide Children's Hospital. This column is part of an ongoing community education project brought to you by: Discount Drug Mart.