April is National

Child Abuse Prevention Month

April is National Child Abuse & Neglect Awareness Month. As an agency that has existed for over 40 years providing nurturing care to children who have experienced child abuse and neglect, we are committed to education, advocacy, and awareness around this important issue facing our state.

Each week during the month of April we will be posting information about child abuse and neglect in Montana. During the first week of April, we will start with sharing information about the growing issue in our state. Week two will focus on how to recognize child abuse and neglect. Week three will cover the impact of child abuse and neglect. And week four will give you information on what you can do to make a difference.

We hope you will join us in driving home this important message.

Each week we will address key components surrounding child abuse prevention.

• Week 1: A Growing Problem
• Week 2: Recognizing the Signs of Abuse and Neglect
• Week 3: Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect
• Week 4: What We Can Do

Week 1: A Growing Need for Awareness and Prevention

– Reports and incidents of child abuse and neglect are growing nationally, including in Montana.

  • According to the Protect Montana Kids Commission Report, submitted to the Governor in May of 2016, there were 35,812 calls made to the state’s Child Abuse Hotline in 2015.
  • Of those calls to the hotline in 2015, 17,754 rose to the level of potential abuse or neglect, with nearly 9,000 investigations being completed.
  • In 2013 there were 2,232 children living in out-of-home care in Montana. By 2015 that number grew to 3,179, and in 2017 it had grown to over 3,400 children, a 65% increase in just four years!
  • Between 2008 and 2015 Montana saw a 111% increase in the number of children in out-of-home care.
  • In addition, the state’s court system is being overrun by child abuse and neglect cases. In 2015 there were 2,321 District Court cases filed, up 125% over 2010 numbers.

Just as we would approach any community health crisis, an increased focus on awareness and prevention efforts is critical to reducing the growing numbers of children experiencing abuse and neglect. Comparatively, the most effective way to address the rise in adult-onset diabetes isn’t to create more hospital beds and treatment approaches for adults once they have developed the disease. We may need to initially do those things, but, the most efficient and effective approach is to educate about diet and exercise and create prevention programs that get to the heart of what contributes to the disease in the first place.

The same is true for child abuse and neglect. We cannot simply continue to build more beds to house more children after they have already experienced child abuse and neglect. We must educate, identify risk factors, and develop prevention approaches that get to the heart of what leads to child abuse and neglect. Research overwhelmingly shows us that when families present with risk factors they are much more likely to have incidents of child abuse or neglect. Risk factors include chronic poverty, unemployment, lack of transportation, food insecurities, mental health issues, chemical dependency, social isolation, lack of family support systems, a history of their own abuse or neglect, to name a few.

The good news is that research also shows us that the more of those risk factors we can address and eliminate, the stronger and healthier the family becomes and the likelihood of abuse and neglect decreases dramatically.

Week 2: How to recognize child abuse and neglect

Any concerned person can report suspicions of child abuse or neglect.  It is not an accusation; rather it is a request for an investigation and assessment to determine if help is needed.  If you suspect abuse or neglect is or has occurred you can call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-866-820-5437 or call 911. Child Protective Services staff will use federal and state established criteria to determine if an investigation is warranted and if abuse or neglect is or has occurred.

There are many signs that could indicate abuse or neglect is or has occurred.  Any one or two signs do not necessarily mean abuse is or has occurred, but often multiple signs may present themselves all at once or over a period of days or even weeks and months.  It is important to pay attention to both physical signs and behaviors that may seem unusual or concerning.   For more information on the signs of abuse and neglect, you can go to www.childwelfare.gov.

Some of the more common signs to look for:

  • Child shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance, or arrives for activities very early or stays very late.
  • Child has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention, frequently lacks adult supervision, or is consistently dirty or hungry.
  • Child has unexplained injuries, such as burns, bites, or bruises.  Or, may have difficulty walking, sitting, or playing.
  • You notice a child is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen, is reluctant to be around a particular person, or does not want to go home.
  • Child demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior.
  • Child attaches very quickly to strangers or new adults in their environment and may demonstrate inappropriate physical boundaries such as wanting to hold hands, hug, or sit on a strangers lap.

Again, any one or two signs may not mean abuse or neglect is or has occurred. Often, and understandably, people are reluctant to make a report out of fear of being wrong. However, we need to ask ourselves…what if I am right, and I didn’t say something? Most times a concerned adult willing to speak up is all it takes for a child to get help. Staff at the Child Abuse Hotline can help answer any questions you may have.

Week 3: Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect

Physical: Child abuse and neglect can result in a number of physical health issues such as broken bones, hemorrhages, brain damage and impaired development.  Many of these physical health issues can linger well into adulthood and even for a lifetime.

Psychological: The psychological effects of abuse and neglect, such as isolation, fear, and an inability to trust can translate into lifelong consequences – including low self-esteem, depression, and relationship difficulties.

Behavioral: Research shows us that more than 50% of children who experience abuse and neglect demonstrate severe behavior problems such as, substance abuse, truancy, high dropout rates, teen pregnancy, and delinquency.  In fact, children who are victims of abuse and neglect are nine times more likely to become involved in criminal activities, and seven times more likely to abuse their own children someday.

Societal: While child abuse and neglect usually occur within the family, the impact does not end there. Society as a whole pays a price for child abuse and neglect, in terms of both direct and indirect costs.

  • Direct costs: In 2012 Montana spent nearly $67 million dollars placing children in out-of-home care services. That number does not include costs associated with law enforcement time, attorney costs, court costs related to prosecution, or any expenses related to incarceration, or the costs associated with treatment for children or parents. *The number of children in placement has increased 125% since 2009.

Indirect costs: Indirect costs include increased dropout rates, resulting in fewer and less skilled people prepared for the workforce, higher numbers of people on assistance, higher rates of homelessness, poverty, and a continuation of the cycle of abuse and neglect. Other costs include a need for more police, more social workers to investigate and handle increased caseloads, more county attorneys to handle increasing court cases, and an increase in providers like Watson’s and many others to provide services to children in care.

Week Four: What You Can Do

Know the signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect (go to Prevent Child Abuse America’s website Recognizing Child Abuse to learn more).

  • Report it if you suspect it!

You can call (1-866-820-5437 or call 911) if you suspect child abuse or neglect is happening. You can remain anonymous.

  • Don’t be afraid to get involved!

You are not turning someone in, you are simply alerting someone that there may be a concern. State social workers must follow strict guidelines regarding child abuse and neglect and will determine if it rises to that level.

  • Be an advocate for children and families in need!

Through 50+ years of focused research, we know the stressors within families that can lead to child abuse and neglect. Those stressors include, but are not limited to: unstable housing, unemployment, food insecurity, lack of transportation, mental health issues, chemical dependency issues, previous history of child abuse in parent(s), domestic violence, social isolation and lack of social support systems, teen pregnancy, and being a single parent.

These stressors do not mean that abuse or neglect will occur in a family. But, the more of them that are present, the more likely it is that child abuse and/or neglect will occur.

If you know of a family dealing one or more of the above stressors, offer to help, suggest community resources that may help, or if you’re concerned about a child’s safety, make a report. Often, it only takes one concerned person to reach out to make a difference.

Together, we can build a stronger community, one family at a time.