RECOGNIZING THE SIGNS
No one wants to believe that a child would be intentionally harmed physically, sexually or emotionally hurt, yet it happens every day.
You can protect your children, the children you care for, the children you teach, the children you come in contact with on a regular basis... all children, by being educated and aware that child abuse does exist.
We should be suspicious of abuse when children tell us they are being abused. We should become suspicious when we see "patterns" of the physical or behavioral indictors identified in this brochure.
We should also be aware that isolated incidents or one behavioral indicator alone may not be abuse and could be a reaction to problems other than child abuse such as death in the family, divorce or other severely disruptive forces in the child's life.
Reporting Suspected Abuse
"Reasonable suspicion" is all that is required to contact authorities and file a report. If unsure about a situation, call the Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-540-4000) and ask to discuss your concerns with a trained professional. They can help you decide whether to make a report or not. If a situation arises where you are not comfortable confronting the parent/caregiver and fear that you will put the child or yourself in danger do not intervene directly. Call the authorities immediately. You may call the Child Abuse Hotline or inform authorities at the Antelope Valley Sheriffs Station in Lancaster at 661-948-8466 or in Palmdale at 661-267-4300. If you have an immediate fear for the life of a child, call 911. Your call to report child abuse can initiate protective action for a vulnerable child. You can open the door to services that would otherwise be unavailable to the child and family. It can be the action that makes a critical difference in the life of that child.
The following are some of the signs that cause us to suspect possible physical abuse, child neglect, sexual abuse or emotional abuse.
• Unexplained bruises, welts, burns, fractures
• Consistent hunger, poor hygiene, inappropriate dress
• Unattended physical problems or medical needs
• Unexplained difficulty in walking or sitting
• Torn, stained or bloody underclothing
• Pain, swelling or itching in genital area
• Bruises, bleeding or lacerations in external genitalia, vaginal or anal areas
• Vaginal/penile discharge
• Sexually transmitted disease, especially in pre-teens
• Lags in physical development; speech disorders
• Failure to thrive
• Shallow, empty facial features
• Hyperactive/disruptive behavior
• Child reports that he/she is being abused/neglected
• Indiscriminately seeks affection
• Poor self concept; overly compliant
• Consistent irritability, stomach ache, vomiting
• Beg or steals food
• Constant fatigue, listlessness or falling asleep in class
• Abuses alcohol or drugs
• Age inappropriate sexual behavior or knowledge
• Poor peer relationships
• Marked change in behavior; change in performance in school
• Sudden sleeping/eating disturbances
• Compulsive masturbation or rubbing of the genital area
• Fear of a particular person or particular place
• Delinquent behavior; runaway behavior
• Thoughts of suicide
• Destructive behavior
• Sleep Disorders; inhibited play, unusual fearfulness
• Lags in mental or emotional development
Questions and Answers About Abuse
How many children are abused in the U.S. each year?
We don't know how many children are abused In the United States each year. Child abuse continues to be a silent crime. Significant numbers of child abuse cases do not get reported and numbers generated about abuse victims relate "reports" of abuse. Additionally, data collection systems across the country collect data in different ways using different definitions of abuse. The most recent national data released by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data Systems indicate that child protective service agencies received and referred for Investigation an estimated 3 million children in one year.
How many children are abused in the Antelope Valley?
In 1996, between 600 - 700 children per month from the Antelope Valley reported allegations of abuse and were reported to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. In 1995, about 1,000 Antelope Valley Children were referred to the Sheriff's Department for abuse investigations, constituting approximately 28% of the child abuse referrals in the entire Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.
What are the different types of child abuse?
There are four major types of child abuse: child neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse. Child neglect is the type most frequently reported accounting for 60% of child abuse reports. Physical abuse constitutes about 25% of child abuse reports, sexual abuse about 15% and emotional abuse about 5% of child abuse reports. The balance of reports consist of concerns about medical neglect, abandonment, and other situations threatening the well being of a child.
What is child neglect?
Physical neglect is the failure to protect the child from harm or danger, failure to provide for the child's basic needs, including adequate shelter and food; inattention to the children's emotional needs, failure to provide medical care, and failure to meet the educational needs of the child. Consequences of neglect may include learning problems, low self-esteem, significant developmental delays, activity delays, academic and behavior problems.
What is physical abuse?
Physical abuse is any act which results in non-accidental physical injury to a child. Accidental injuries are differentiated from abusive injuries by assessing the location of the injury, assessing statements by the child about how the injury occurred, noting unusual injuries for a specific age group, noting unexplained injuries for which the history is inconsistent, and questioning a delay in seeking care for the injured child. Behavioral indicators may also support concerns about the presence of physical abuse. Injuries include damage to the skin and surface tissue, damage to the brain, damage to other internal organs, and damage to the skeleton. Injuries may result from punching, kicking, belting, biting, burning or otherwise causing physical harm to the child.
What is sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse is generally defined as sexual activities involving a child and an adult or significantly older child. It is difficult for most people to talk about sexual abuse and even more difficult for society as a whole to admit that children of all ages and both sexes are sexually abused every day. Sexual abuse includes both touching and non-touching offenses. In its extreme form it includes sexual intercourse and oral/genital sex. It also includes indecent exposure, and exposing a child to pornographic material. Physical offenses include fondling, making a child touch an adult's sexual organs, or any penetration of a child's vagina or anus, no matter how slight, by any object that does not have a valid medical purpose. Children are often sexually abused in their own homes by their parents or caretakers who should be nurturing and protecting them. Children are also sexually abused by persons outside the home who gain access to them and assert control over them.
What is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse is psychological maltreatment which is defined as "acts that damage immediately or ultimately, the behavioral, cognitive, affective or physical functioning of a child." Harmful behaviors may include constant rejection of a child, terrorizing, failure to provide the physical or mental stimulation that a child needs to grow, exposure to domestic violence or corrupting influences such as drug abuse and criminal activity.
Who is more likely to to be abused?
Both males and females from birth to 18 years of age are at risk of child abuse. Child abuse occurs in all racial, ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic groups. Some reports suggest that girls are at greater risk of sexual abuse. However, recent research suggests that the sexual abuse of boys is dramatically under reported. Suggestions are that as data collection systems become more sophisticated, we will see that boys are equally at risk of sexual abuse. Physical abuse and neglect appears to be correlated with poverty and families on the lower socioeconomic rungs. This correlation seems to be, however, a response to deficiencies in the reporting systems rather than a reflection of the actual incidence of abuse.
What makes people abuse children?
There is no simple answer. The reasons are many. We must keep in mind that the types of abuse range from mild to severe and that the abusers may also range from a generally loving but over-stressed parent who abuses infrequently or only once to the severely disturbed parent who engages in the chronic ongoing sadistic torture of a child. Obviously, new parenting skills and support may help the one parent but not the other. STRESS is the number one contributor to abuse. Other factors include the immaturity of parents, lack of parenting skills, unrealistic expectations about children's behavior and capabilities, a parent's own negative childhood experiences, social isolation, frequent family crises, and drug or alcohol problems.
What help is available? What can I do?
For a help in an emergency or life threatening situation, call 9-1-1 and secure police assistance for the child. For a non-emergency situation, call the Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-540-4000) at DCFS to make a child abuse report. The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the local child protective services agency, has the legal authority to "explore, study and evaluate" the facts surrounding a reported case of abuse or neglect. A Children's Social Worker will be sent to investigate the situation. Attempt will be made to make the home a safe place for the child. Sometimes, a child is placed in foster care or with relatives until the immediate danger has passed and support services can be provided to the family. Even after removal, every attempt is made to return the children as quickly as possible to their own family. The number of children actually removed from their homes is relatively small - about 15% of those referred to DCFS.
For families where the risk of child abuse is high or where physical abuse has occurred, child abuse prevention and treatment services are available through the Children's Bureau of Southern California (800-272-0438).
Treatment services for sexually and physically abused children are available at the Children's Center of the Antelope Valley (661-949-1206). Intensive In-Home services are available to families where abuse has occurred through the Antelope Valley Family Preservation Network which can be accessed by the Children's Social Worker assigned to a family. Other services which families may need can be identified through the Red Book Directory (800-949-1069)