By Anaïs Bailly-Mompoint, LMSW
Have you ever noticed that every month there seems to be an announcement about “National Awareness Month of (fill in the blank)? With so many things to be “aware” of, every month has multiple health and social issues that compete for our attention. As a social worker, I could not miss the opportunity to discuss an issue that is present in many communities and one that puts our future at risk. April is reserved to one of the growing epidemics of our society—child abuse, and is the National Child Abuse Awareness Month.
I’m sure you’ve seen it, whether at the supermarket, on the train or even on your favorite TV show, a child “misbehaving” and “embarrassing” a parent/caregiver. Most of us had the thought, “If this was my child…” or “When I was growing up in…” I’m guilty of it as well. However, now more than ever, life’s stressors get to parents already at the intersectionality of various oppressions and challenges. Add a crying infant/toddler to the mix and a parent/caregiver may abuse and/or neglect their child(ren).
According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children (ASPCC), “more than 4 children die from abuse and neglect every day” with over “70 percent of kids being under the age of 3.” This translates to more than 120 deaths each month from abuse and neglect. I know what some of you may be thinking, last week’s column was more lighthearted so why bring such morose topic forth? Well that’s the thing with enjoying life one better decision at a time, we must address all aspects and cannot turn a blind eye because something makes us feel uncomfortable.
So is there a magic trick to eradicate child abuse? Perhaps not overnight like adding coconut oil and cooling your rice for 12 hours to cut the calories in half. But there is help and hope. ChildHelp has compiled some guidelines for caregivers to help prevent abuse/neglect. At the top of the list is for parents to never discipline their child while angry or feeling overwhelmed.
I’m not here to lecture about your child-rearing practices, especially as a Haitian immigrant who was not necessarily spared from the rod, and as a new mom who knows too well that some days are better than others. What I am addressing however is when discipline turns to violent abuse and frustration leads to neglect.
To promote awareness, the 2016 theme of ASPCC focuses on protective factors including “nurturing and attachment, knowledge of parenting and child development, parental resilience and support for families.” This recognizes that every parent already has some form of resiliency that can be built on. Parents who are at risk of abusing and/or neglecting their children can benefit from knowing there are resources available to help them and coping strategies they can learn to help manage stress. As family, friends, neighbors and members of communities, providing support can play a vital role and “promote child and family well-being,” conveys ASPCC.
What can support look like? The first one is a judgement free zone. Before we roll the film of negative comments in our head, let’s reframe our thinking.
Scenario: Mother/Father/Caregiver with 3 children at the supermarket and one is throwing a tantrum. Place yourself in that person’s shoes and think how challenging a day in their life may be. Next step, taking action. Using the same scenario, instead of masking our faces with that eyebrow raising, eye rolling, head shaking and snickering to the person next to us, why not extend some validating words or a hand. This is not to replace stepping up and reporting child abuse/neglect when it is occurring. But rather, recognizing that we can begin to plant seeds of prevention.
Remember, if you are feeling overwhelmed, take advantage of the resources that are present to assist you. Download a child development app on your phone to help you better understand what your child may be going through and always reach out to someone. If you’re that someone who’s been reached out to, lending a hand can make a world of difference. If doesn’t necessarily mean monetary gifts or even babysitting for the person, but you’ll be surprised the impact validating a parent can make. Finally, before you judge, share a smile and create of community of hope instead. After all, wouldn’t that help make our world a place of better living?!