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 well-being of kids and their families.

 

About Child Abuse

An estimated 1,670 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States in 2015, according to the National Children’s Alliance, and nearly 700,000 suffer abuse annually. Child Protective Services (CPS) protects more than 3 million children.

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 threatening behavior, harms a child’s self-worth. Neglect is 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 of mistreated children suffering neglect. More than 17 percent of maltreated children experience physical abuse and 8.4 percent suffer sexual abuse. Many children experience more than one form of maltreatment. In just over 78 percent of cases, a parent perpetrated the abuse.

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 higher risk for health problems, such as alcoholism, depression, eating disorders and certain chronic diseases, when they are adults.

 

The History of Child Abuse Prevention Month

The forerunner of Child Abuse Prevention Month actually 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 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and their Child Welfare Information Gateway website provides a number of resources, including:

  • 2016/2017 Prevention Resource Guide
  • Tip Sheets
  • Protective Factors in Practice Vignettes
  • Publications
  • Archived Resource Guides

The Resource Guide provides information about protective factors that help reduce child abuse and neglect, and using protective factors to work with families and as a framework for community partnerships. Tips sheets act as a starting point for discussion between parent and provider.

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 in treating children and families, click here for more info.

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.