Welcome to Barriere Bits E-zine.
October is Child Abuse Awareness (Prevention) Month in Canada. Though this e-zine generally follows a more international format, there are no borders when it comes to the pervasive issue of child abuse. Therefore, this month's issue is dedicated to detailing the actions each and every one of us can take to both prevent and intervene in cases of child abuse, regardless of where you live or what time of the year it is.
One quarter of all Canadian children have been abused by the time they reach 16 years of age; and that's a conservative estimate. In truth, child abuse is so underreported, we simply don't know how many children are being abused.
Below are 5 ways to help the cause...
- Learn what child abuse is and learn to identify the signs.
Child abuse can be emotional, physical and/or sexual. Neglect is also a form of child abuse.
- Emotional child abuse is the constant attack on a child or youth by an adult that negatively affects the child or youth's self worth.
- Physical child abuse is the use of any physical force or action that results in, or may result in, non-accidental injury to a child or youth.
- Sexual child abuse is when an adult, an older child or an adolescent uses a child for their own sexual gratification.
- Child neglect is when a child's basic needs are not being met.
More detailed definitions can be found on my site at www.child-abuse-effects.com
- Act when you are aware of abuse.
It is everyone's business when a child is being abused. Report known or suspected child abuse to Child Protective Services; every Canadian has a legal obligation to report. It matters not where you live, everyone has a moral obligation to report.
- Apply the H.E.A.R.S. method when someone discloses abuse.
- H = Hear. Listen to the child.
Tell him/her: "I believe you."
Remember: The number one reason children don't tell is because they are afraid they won't be believed. The fact that a child discloses to you says to that child that you are trustworthy. Stay trustworthy.
- E = Empathize. Encourage.
Tell the child: "I'm so sorry this happened to you."
Remain calm. A child's disclosure of abuse is wracked with guilt and apprehension. Your presence of mind and strength will help the child better deal with their trepidation. If you must have a nervous breakdown, give yourself permission to have one later, away from the child.
- A = Affirm. Acknowledge.
Tell the child: "It's not your fault."
It is NEVER a child or youth's fault that s/he was abused.
- R = Reassure. Report.
Tell the child: "I'm glad you told me. Together we're going to get some help."
As stated above, contact the local Child Protective Services (CPS) or Child Welfare Agency. Never promise the child that you will keep their secret; there can be no secrets when it comes to child abuse.
- S = Self care.
Whether you are an adolescent or an adult, it is very stressful to learn that a child or youth you know has been abused. It is disconcerting when a child discloses troubling details of abuse, so be sure that you have someone you yourself can talk to. Don't take this on all by yourself. Get yourself help if you need it.
- Teach your children to tell.
If you have children, teach them that they can always come to you to talk. Use age appropriate language. But walk that talk: ensure that you ARE available for your child ANY time they wish to share something with you. Parents often don't realize that brushing a child off with an "I'm busy right now" can--and will--send the message that your child really can't talk to you when s/he needs to. Don't worry that they'll interrupt; most children will test the waters just to see if you really are as available as you say you are. When they see that you are truly available, they'll often stop "interrupting". But if interruptions become a major problem, use them as an opportunity for teaching your children to differentiate between "emergencies" and "stuff that can wait a short while". Just be sure to address the "stuff" that has waited a while.
When possible, use role play and every day situations to help your child come up with ways--practice, actually--to tell to you when something is wrong. Teach your child the difference between telling and tattling. Tattling (ratting, or whatever word is currently being used) is to get that person in trouble; telling is to keep that person safe, even if that person is me (your child).
If you are a minor, consider becoming a peer group mentor. Look into other programs your school offers that are related to helping your peers. If you are an adult, community organizations with a mandate to help children are always looking for volunteers.
In short, get involved. The only way child abuse can be stopped is if we open our eyes to it, and then act to intervene and also prevent it wherever we can.
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Darlene Barriere is a child abuse survivor, a violence and abuse prevention educator and author of On My Own Terms, A Memoir. She lives in semi-arid Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada with her husband, John.