Parents, Relatives Major Perpetrators Of Child Abuse
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April is Child Abuse Prevention month. This is a time when we strive to make the public and communities aware of child abuse and neglect, and relay ways we can all support children and families.

What is child abuse? Child Abuse can be physical, leaving observable scars, bruises, or broken bones. Child abuse includes neglect, in which case a child’s needs such as food, clothing, hygiene, or supervision are not being provided. Also included in child abuse is emotional abuse, where a child is belittled to the point that he or she feels worthless, and sexual abuse. The latter types of abuse may not show scars that are visible on the skin, but the scars are embedded deep within the child internally.

Who are the usual perpetrators of child abuse? In Tennessee long-term trends show that more than 85 percent of the perpetrators of child abuse and neglect were the parents or relatives of the victims. In only 2 percent of the investigations the perpetrators were staffs at schools, day cares and institutions. Adolescents as well as adults can be perpetrators of abuse.

Common characteristics that may be noticeable in parents who abuse include offering conflicting reasons for a child’s injury, past drug or alcohol history, not appearing to be able to provide for the child’s needs, or someone who was once a child abuse victim themselves. All too often, the cycle repeats itself. Parents are often reluctant to seek help to stop themselves from continuing the abuse because they are embarrassed about admitting it to anyone.

Signs of child abuse in a child might be physical. He or she may have bruises or injuries that are not explainable. The child may begin to act disruptive, or he or she may do the opposite by becoming quiet and withdrawn. Often, sleep has become disrupted and the eating habits of the little one has changed. A sudden drop in grades or dramatic changes in behavior are key things to look for. Sometimes the child will begin to act as the parent to other children, appearing very protective of siblings.

It is okay to attempt to talk to a child to find out if everything is alright, but do not interrogate him or her. If you are receiving no feedback or the issue of trust doesn’t seem to be there, and you still have the feeling that the child is being abused, contact the proper authorities and let them handle it.

Who can report suspected child abuse? Although it was once the doctors and teachers who were required to report suspected abuse of a child, now anyone can report suspected child abuse, and doing so could be the only way to get help for the child and his or her family – possibly saving a child’s life.

According to Tennessee law, all persons (including doctors, mental health professionals, child care providers, dentists, family members and friends) must report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect. Failure to report child abuse or neglect is a violation of the law. Many people are reluctant to report suspected child abuse for fear that the family will be broken up or that the family will find out who reported it. First, the person reporting abuse remains anonymous.

Secondly, the professionals in child services will investigate and sometimes the family can take steps such as taking anger management classes to learn how to discipline without losing control. Finally, if you have a gut feeling a child is being abused, you may be the only one who can break the cycle of child abuse in that child’s life.

The toll-free number to call in Tennessee is (877) 237-0004 or you can call your local department of children services office. More than one hundred (100) children are reported abused or neglected in the state of Tennessee every day. Let’s all work together to break the child abuse cycle that all too often destroys so many lives.

It is estimated that ten million children are exposed to domestic violence each year.

Not only are these little ones traumatized by the exposure to domestic violence, it is reported that 60 percent of the children exposed have been physically or sexually abused. For more information, feel free to contact us at Cannon Co. S.A.V.E. domestic violence program at 615-563-6690. If you are a victim of abuse, remember you are not alone, help is only a phone call away.

Tracy Neal
Education Coordinator
Cannon Co. S.A.V.E.
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