Child abuse is an issue that must be addressed by the entire community. The best way to prevent child abuse is to increase public awareness about the legal responsibility to report suspected abuse, provide education about the dynamics of abuse, understand its long-term effects, and most importantly, empower and educate our own children. Our community must support programs that respond to the devastating problem of child abuse. This is crucial to decreasing the trauma and breaking the cycle.
The Children's Advocacy Center of Central Texas offers a variety of prevention programs addressing child abuse throughout Bell, Coryell, and Milam Counties.
Step 1: Learn the Facts Child abuse thrives in an environment of denial and fear. Learning to overcome these obstacles help protect children. Knowing what child abuse is, recognizing its prevalence, and understanding how it occurs is crucial when it comes to prevention.
Step 2: Minimize the Opportunity: Eliminating or reducing isolated, one-on-one situations, and screening those who care for children in youth-serving settings help to decrease the risk of abuse. People who abuse children often participate in family activities, earn trust, and gain alone time with children. Grooming is a process by which an offender provides attention and affection to the child while filling roles within the child's family or community that makes the offender a trusted and valued member. This includes monitoring internet use, it's important to discuss internet safety and creating rules regarding the internet.
Step 3: Talk About It: Having age-appropriate, open conversations about bodies, sex, and boundaries is important. Discussing this personal safety component increases confidence and instills knowledge that makes children less vulnerable. There are several reasons why children are afraid to tell if they are being abused (threats, guilt, etc.). Children may make attempts to talk about their concerns by telling trusted adults, asking questions about their bodies, testing a caregiver's reaction. Children will often shut down if responded to in an emotional or negative way.
Step 4: Recognize the Signs: If you find physical signs or suspect abuse, have the child examined immediately by a professional who specializes in child abuse. Rather than label, punish, or simply manage the child, by reaching out with sensitivity and patience and openly ask the child what's bothering them. Signs don't always mean abuse is present in their lives, but signs can be a reason to take more interest in the child and ask more questions.
Step 5: React Responsibly: It's important to understand how to respond to disclosures, discoveries, and suspicions of abuse. When a child discloses to you, that means the child trusts you enough to tell. The child has taken a huge risk in telling. Giving them attention, compassion, and believing them is paramount. Offer support, avoid overreacting, and make a report to investigative authorities. If you discover child abuse (including child pornography) it's your role as a mandated reporter to report what you've witnessed. If you have a suspicion that a child is being abused, it means you've seen signs or witnessed boundary violations by adults or other youth. In these cases, at a minimum, you should be setting limits or asking questions.