Every child has a right to a safe childhood free of violence.

This month (April) is Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. So BRIDGES is dedicating a lot of time to start the conversation in our communities about how we can keep our children safe.

We turned to the website of Joyful Heart Foundation — which aims to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse and to supports survivors’ healing – to explore this problem. The following, from the website, explains the impact of child abuse and how to spot signs of abuse on children:

Unfortunately, millions of young people are abused, ignored, and mistreated by the adults responsible to create that positive environment.

Child abuse are acts that result in serious harm or risk of harm, including physical violence, exploitation, and death. Failure to take action to stop the harm is also considered child abuse.

Child neglect is the failure to provide a child’s basic needs that range from providing clean clothing to medical care.

In the United States, child protective services referrals involve 7.2 million children each year.

How to spot child abuse?

Abusers often convince children to lie or be silent about their situations. There are visible signs that a child may be hurt, including the following:

Physical signs

  • Visible and severe injuries, especially in infants. This includes bruises, sprains, and burns
  • Injuries varying in healing stages
  • Burn marks
  • Injuries difficult to explain
  • Timing of injuries and/or its frequency, such as during particular times of year or once a month

 Behavioral signs 

  • Behavior extremes, such as being overly compliant and passive or very demanding and aggressive
  • Increased avoidance or fear of a specific person or situation
  • Nightmares or difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty expressing thoughts and feelings
  • Wears clothing that covers up arms, legs, and other parts of the body out of season

 Sexual signs 

  • Pain or itching in the genital area
  • Bruises or bleeding in and around the genital area
  • Torn, stained, or bloody clothing
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Pregnancy
  • Knowledge or interest in sexual behaviors not age appropriate

Developmental signs 

  • Failure to thrive socially or academically
  • Uncomfortable with physical contact with others
  • Slowed physical, emotional, or intellectual development
  • Learning disorders
  • Speech disorders

Psychological signs 

  • Low self-esteem
  • Uncharacteristic obedience or perfectionism
  • Strong shame or guilt
  • Statements or behaviors that appear programmed

What’s the effect of child abuse?

The healing journey for those who have experienced child abuse and neglect can be extremely painful. It is also possible for survivors to go on and have healthy and productive childhoods and adult lives.

Still, every child who has experienced abuse or neglect will have their own response to the trauma. While some children have long-lasting effects, others are able to recover quicker and with ease. There is not a right or wrong way for a child to manage effects of the abuse and neglect they have suffered.

How to report child abuse in Florida?

The Florida Abuse Hotline accepts reports 24 hours a day and 7 days a week of known or suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment and reports of known or suspected abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a vulnerable adult.

To make a report you can:

Photo credit: Children’s Trust Fund