Guest column: April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

The Facts:

• According to the Arizona Department of Economic Security, during a six-month period in 2013, more than 22,000 calls received met the criteria for abuse or neglect.

• In 2012, the Arizona Child Fatality Review Team report showed 70 children in Arizona died from maltreatment; six of those children were age 2 or younger.

• The majority of abused children are abused by people in their own families not by strangers.

• Child abuse or maltreatment refers to a non-accidental act which harms or threatens to harm a child's physical or mental health or welfare. These acts most often are committed by a parent, caregiver or person in a position of trust.

There are many forms of maltreatment:

• Physical abuse is the non-accidental harm of a child including excessive physical punishment, shaking, slapping, burning or scalding, kicking, hitting and strangling.

• Sexual abuse means sexual contact between an infant, child or teen and an adult or older more powerful person (such as a babysitter). This also can include sexual talk, taking or showing sexually explicit photographs, exposing a child to adult sexual activity or pornography, or sending text messages or photos of a sexual nature.

• Emotional abuse is verbal or emotional cruelty such as constant name-calling or belittling; being kept in a confined space such as a closet or room; lack of nurturance, emotional care or empathy; and extreme or inappropriate discipline for the child's age.

• Neglect is withholding what a child needs to develop properly such as an education, medical care or a safe physical environment; little or no supervision; or ignoring a child's need for contact, affirmation and stimulation.

In any of these instances, maltreatment not only affects a child's physical health and how they relate to others, but also whether they view themselves as worthwhile human beings.

Children can be taught about their rights and ways to protect themselves when adults bully, threaten or harm them; however, the real responsibility for a child's well-being lies with parents/caregivers, the community (schools, religious leaders, neighbors) and lawmakers. Encouraging parents to use non-violent consequences for misbehavior is important. Providing families with the skills and resources they need through quality healthcare, social services and school or church programs can ease some of the stress that contributes to child maltreatment.

If you know or suspect that a child or teenager is being mistreated, call the Arizona hotline at 1-888-SOS-CHILD or local law enforcement at 928-774-1414. You do not have to have proof, just a reasonable suspicion. The purpose for making a report is to stop the abuse, protect the child from further harm and begin healing for the child.

Susann Clinton, N.P., is a nurse practitioner at Flagstaff Medical Center's Safe Child Center.

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