April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to recognize the importance of communities and families working together to prevent child neglect and abuse. During the month of April, participants will share child abuse and neglect prevention activities and strategies to implement in communities and homes throughout the year. The event also promotes the social and emotional wellbeing of kids and their families.
About Child Abuse
An estimated 1,750 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States in 2016, according to data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, and nearly 700,000 suffer abuse annually. Child Protective Services (CPS) has seen a 9.5 percent increase from 2012 (3.172 million) to 2016 (3.472 million) in the number of children who received a child protection investigation response.
…out of 632,000 victims reported in 2016, a whopping 82.5 percent of the cases were perpetrated by one or both biological parents.
– Children’s Bureau 2016 Child Maltreatment Report
There are four main types of abuse. Physical abuse is the use of physical force, such as hitting, kicking, burning or shaking of a child. Sexual abuse involves fondling, penetrating or exposing a child to sexual activities. Emotional abuse, such as shaming, name-calling, withholding affection or using threatening behavior, harms a child’s self-worth. Neglect is a failure to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs, such as food, clothing, housing, education and access to medical care.
Neglect is the most common form of maltreatment, with about three-quarters (74.8 percent) of mistreated children suffering neglect. More than 18 percent of maltreated children experience physical abuse and 8.5 percent suffer sexual abuse. Many children experience more than one form of maltreatment, and out of 632,000 victims reported in 2016, a whopping 82.5 percent of the cases were perpetrated by one or both biological parents.
Child abuse and neglect can cause immediate harm but, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), abuse and neglect can also inflict stress that disrupts early brain development. Severe, chronic stress can even interfere with the development of the immune and nervous systems, which puts abused or neglected children at a higher risk for health problems when they are adults, such as alcoholism, depression, eating disorders and certain chronic diseases.
The History of Child Abuse Prevention Month
The forerunner of Child Abuse Prevention Month began in 1974, when President Nixon signed the first federal child protection legislation, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). With the stroke of a pen, Nixon marked the beginning of a new national response to child abuse and neglect. The act provided federal assistance to the states for the purposes of child abuse prevention, identification and treatment programs. The legislation also created the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect to act as a focal point for CAPTA activities. The National Center on Child Abuse continues today, but is now known as the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect.
The Federal Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect published their first report in March 1978, setting federal standards for child abuse and neglect prevention and treatment programs and projects. In 1982, Congress designated June 6 – 12 as the first National Child Abuse Prevention Week. President Reagan proclaimed April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month the following year.
In the decades since, efforts to prevent child abuse have expanded with new federal agencies, laws and grants that create minimum standards, provide support and offer resources for child abuse prevention. Broad-based partnerships between national organizations, federal groups and parents strengthen families and communities. Some resources support families while other resources support service providers in their work with parents, caregivers and children.
The Children’s Bureau funds the National Child Abuse Prevention Month initiative each April. This bureau is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and their Child Welfare Information Gateway website provides several resources, including:
- 2019 Prevention Resource Guide
- Tip Sheets
- Protective Factors in Practice Vignettes
- Archived Resource Guides
The Resource Guide provides information about protective factors to help reduce child abuse and neglect, to work with families and to use as a framework for community partnerships. Tips sheets act as a starting point for discussion between parents and providers.
Practice vignettes illustrate how these protective factors can support and strengthen families experiencing stress, and work as training tools for new family support workers. The publications and archived resource guides provide information about child abuse prevention, how to protect children from the risk of abuse and promoting healthy families. Another resource for children’s services professionals is a webinar on using trauma-sensitive language when treating children and families.
While professional development is always important and valuable, we must keep in mind that children’s services providers are exposed to trauma daily. Without the proper tools to cope with the challenging experiences they face, they can suffer from burnout and compassion fatigue. This can, and often does, lead to turnover. In fact, the children’s services industry experiences a higher rate of burnout and turnover than other industries, including healthcare. Training that supports both the professional and emotional wellbeing of children’s services providers is ideal.
Child abuse and neglect are preventable, and engaging in activities during Child Abuse Prevention Month can help reduce child abuse and neglect in the United States. Many organizations host websites that provide information that can reduce child abuse. National campaigns include Darkness to Light, for example, which aims to reduce abuse by raising public awareness and offering education. The Period of Purple Crying, hosted by the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, addresses the stressful age when babies cry the most. State and local organizations also offer resources for parents and caregivers during the month of April and the rest of the year.
Child abuse continues to be one of the most serious issues facing the nation. Participating in Child Abuse Prevention Month activities during April can shed light on this pervasive problem. Continued work with families and within the community may one day eradicate child abuse, and free children to enjoy their childhood then grow up strong, healthy and happy.