April is Child Abuse Prevention month

Child abuse refers to an act committed by a parent, caregiver or person in a position of trust (even though he/she may not care for the child on a daily basis) which is not accidental and which harms or threatens to harm a child's physical or mental health or a child's welfare.

There are more than two million reported cases of physical abuse or neglect in the U.S. each year, according to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. Approximately 2,000 children per year die of child abuse and/or neglect. In 2007, 60 children died from abuse in Arizona. Most abuse, including sexual, occurs within the family or within close social networks (friends, neighbors, sitters, coaches, churches, etc.) with the abuser being well-known to the child. Offenders come from all economic, ethnic, religious and educational backgrounds.

Four Basic

Types of Child Abuse

• Physical Abuse: non-accidental harm of a child, including excessive physical punishment, leaving marks or bruises.

• Neglect: maltreatment or negligence that harms a child's health, welfare or safety. This includes physical, emotional or educational neglect such as abandonment; refusal to seek treatment for illness; inadequate supervision; health hazards in the home; ignoring a child's need for contact; affirmation and stimulation; providing inadequate emotional nurturing; knowingly permitting chronic truancy; and depriving a child of education.

• Emotional Abuse: verbal assault or emotional cruelty, inadequate nurturing or extreme discipline.

• Sexual Abuse: sexual contact between a child or teenager and an adult or significantly older, more powerful person. Sexual abuse also can include: inappropriate verbal stimulation of a child or teenager; taking or showing sexually explicit photographs of or to a child or teenager; exposing a child or teenager to pornography or adult sexual activity.

What should you do if you suspect child abuse?

The goals of any effective response to suspected abuse are to protect the child from further abuse, stop the offender's abuse, heal the victim physically and emotionally and if possible, restore the family.

If you suspect abuse, call the Arizona Child Abuse Hotline at 888 SOS-CHILD. You also can call local law enforcement to discuss your concerns or to make a formal report regarding your fear about the welfare of a child or teenager. Anyone can report suspected child abuse and if it is made in good faith, they will not be liable for an unfounded report. In Arizona, anyone in the helping professions (teaching, care-giving, etc.) is legally mandated to report a suspicion of child abuse or neglect to authorities.

What can be done to make our community safer for children to seek/find help?

• Support prevention programs in schools and churches, including parenting classes, support groups and respite care for parents under pressure;

• Support local law enforcement and child protective services in their difficult jobs of gathering information to protect children and the community;

• Volunteer to be a foster parent, a Big Brother/Big Sister, a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) or a tutor at school;

• Vote for candidates who value children's health and education initiatives;

• Vote for funding to improve children's health, after-school programs, and family resources for support.

For more information:

• Child Welfare Information Gateway; 800 394-3366; ChildWelfare.gov/can;

• Safe Child Center at Flagstaff Medical Center; 928 773-2053; FMCSafeChild.com;

• Childhelp USA; 800 422-4453; ChildHelp.org.

Gail Santilli, L.C.S.W., is a licensed social worker at Flagstaff Medical Center. Is there a health topic you'd like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o Flagstaff Medical Center, Public Relations, 1200 North Beaver St., Flagstaff, AZ 86001.

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