OPINION — Do you see a kid you know with a bruise, especially in an unusual spot?

Do they have a burn mark? Are they dirty, pale, scrawny and listless? Do they seem depressed, or angry? All those could be signs of an abused child.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention (CAP) Month. The theme of this year’s awareness and impact campaign is “Growing a Better Tomorrow for All Children, Together.” 

It’s a problem that must be addressed. In 2017, the most recent year statistics were readily available, South Dakota had 15,937 total referrals for child abuse and neglect, according to the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). Of those, 2,492 reports were referred for investigation.

According to the CWLA, in 2017, there were 1,339 victims of abuse or neglect in South Dakota, a rate of 6.2 per 1,000 children, an increase 36.1% from 2013. Of these children, 89.8% were neglected, 11.8% were physically abused, and 4.4% were sexually abused.9

The number of child victims has increased 36.1% in comparison to the number of victims in 2013.

The COVID-19 pandemic only adds to concerns, as parents and caregivers, pushed to the edge by financial and health worries, are at a greater risk of harming a defenseless child.

With people out of work or underemployed, and families sheltering at home, the danger increases at the same time there are fewer opportunities for the community to witness or intercede on behalf of the child being harmed or neglected.

Child abuse analysts and experts are still studying and compiling data on the impact of the pandemic on families and kids. Add in alcohol or drug use by the adults and you have a recipe for disaster. But it doesn’t have to be that way if we all try to make kids’ lives safer.

Bobby Goeman, a pediatric nurse practitioner at the Sanford Health Aberdeen Clinic, sees abused children on a regular basis. It can be a difficult job, but it’s also very important work.

Goeman said there is no clear evidence the COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in child abuse. She studies reports closely to stay on top of trends.

“And that’s not what we expected,” she said.

Historically, pandemics, recessions, natural disasters and other upheavals lead to increases. However, it could be cases are not being reported because kids are home more and signs of abuse are not being observed.

“That is one of the thoughts,” she said. “We don’t know if that is the case.”

Goeman said stimulus payments and unemployment assistance may have reduced economic stress in homes, which might lessen child abuse.

She has worked in pediatric care since 2008. Goeman said abuse cases haven’t changed much since she started, but there is increased awareness. Teachers, health care workers and others are now required to report suspected cases.

In addition, efforts are made to lessen the problem and teach parents and caregivers how to deal with the stresses that can spark abuse. There are agencies that can help families and children and there is a greater effort to connect those services with families, especially if there is a history of mental illness, depression or other problems.

“We’re trying to do more to prevent it,” she said.

Child Advocacy Centers (CACs) are child-focused centers that coordinate the investigation, prosecution and treatment of child abuse, while helping abused children heal.

CACs have professionals specially trained to interview a child or provide a medical exam for the child. South Dakota has three nationally accredited CACs: the Children’s Home Child Advocacy Center in Rapid City, Child’s Voice in Sioux Falls, and Avera St. Mary’s Central South Dakota Child Assessment Center in Pierre.

The Oglala Lakota Children’s Justice Center in Pine Ridge also serves as a CAC.

Prevent Child Abuse America was founded in 1972, as people who worked in health care, law enforcement, social services, public policy and other disciplines came together — that’s a key word — to try to make kids’ lives easier and safer while educating the public about the sad, at times tragic realities of child abuse in our state.

After nearly a half a century, these groups have helped people become aware of the depth and breadth of this societal malady.

Working together, we can ease the pain of kids who are being harmed and scarred, both physically and mentally. We can help these precious children grow and flourish.

“Research shows that positive childhood experiences in nurturing environments provide fertile ground for physical and mental health, learning and social skills,” said Dr. Melissa Merrick, president and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America. “By preventing child abuse and neglect we aim to holistically improve the lives of all families and the communities they live in.”

You can make your presence known and your concern for children clear by sharing Prevent Child Abuse America’s posts on social media and by discussing this epidemic of misery with family and friends. This problem needs increased awareness.

Another way to assist in that effort is by taking part in the group’s nationwide Digital Advocacy Day, on Wednesday.  Use the hashtags #GrowingBetterTogether and #CAPMonth.

Prevent Child Abuse America asks you to reach out to legislators and ask them to support family-friendly policies, such as paid sick and family leave. They are proven to reduce stress on parents and caregivers and make life easier for their kids.

PCAA also supports an expansion of Healthy Families America, which provides home visits to assist families in dealing with problems and pressures that can cause child abuse to fester and take root. Iowa has offered such programs since 1992. They work, and deserve our support.

You also can make a donation — it’s tax-deductible — and help build a virtual pinwheel garden.

It’s a problem that can be reduced if we work together. The people on the frontlines need and deserve our support.

Goeman admits some cases keep her up at night.

“It is difficult. Personally, what I try to keep in the forefront is that we try to do what’s best for that child,” she said. “I guess that helps me sleep at night, helps me know I am doing the right thing is just by keeping the child’s best interests in the forefront.”

To read all of today's stories, Click here or call 642-2761 to subscribe to our e-edition or home delivery.

0
0
0
0
0

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.