April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and Focus on the Family is raising awareness through its “Prevention with a Purpose” campaign.
With this month’s campaign, Focus on the Family is honing in on prevention as a key element that can save lives. People in any role in a child’s life play a part in preventing child abuse by actively looking and listening for signs of abuse or neglect.
“Our Prevention with Purpose campaign is about helping everyone to know that their eyes and ears matter in the life of a child,” Sharen Ford, director of foster care and adoption for Focus on the Family, said. “If you see something that is suspicious, please call and report it. If you hear something that concerns you—a conversation that young children are having or older children—and it sounds suspicious, please pick up the phone and report it.”
According to the Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau Child Maltreatment Report, two million children received prevention services in 2019, and 1,940 children died from abuse and neglect that same year.
These problems have been exacerbated amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. In a normal school year, teachers play a vital role in recognizing signs of abuse with their students, but when classes switched to a virtual setting, it became much for difficult for educators to recognize any abnormal behavior.
Although teachers—along with social workers, librarians, law enforcement officials, and some others in some states—are mandatory reporters of abuse or neglect, anyone can report suspected abuse or neglect.
“All of us as citizens who care about children have the opportunity and the responsibility to report suspected abuse or neglect,” said Ford. “It’s not your responsibility to do the investigation, but it’s your opportunity to step into a life of a child and maybe save them from abuse that’s going on, or also to give services to a family who might be struggling and need resources or help so that abuse can be stopped.”
Churches also have a significant role to play in prevention.
“If you’re an outward-facing church, let the community know, ‘we are here to serve you,’ and every little bit helps,” Ford said. “The family is the fabric—the bedrock of the community. And if the church were there to serve the family at their initial point of need, hopefully, we can prevent kids from coming into foster care.”
Some things to look for include children having conversations that are beyond their developmental and legal age of consent, acting out sexually, using words they never used before, or searching for or watching explicit videos. Warning signs of neglect include unkempt clothing or prolonged body odor.
The National Hotline for Child Abuse and Neglect, 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453), is available 24/7 with crisis counselors available who can provide assistance in over 170 languages. The hotline offers crisis intervention, information, and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service, and support resources. Text messages and online chat are also available at childhelphotline.org.