Child Abuse Prevention Month aims to raise awareness of abuse — and how to report it

Since 1983, Child Abuse Prevention Month has been a time for communities to work together to prevent child abuse. Each year in April, we are all encouraged to learn the signs of child abuse and how to report it, and to commit to be a part of the solution.

April-is-Child-Abuse-Prevention-Month-Photo-Pinwheels-300x300Why is this important?

Reports from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that children who are abused or neglected often show emotional, cognitive and behavioral problems such as anxiety, depression, suicidal behavior, difficulty in school, abuse of drugs and alcohol, and early sexual activity. In addition, abuse causes stress that can disrupt early brain and physical development. And victims of abuse are more likely to repeat the cycle of violence by entering into violent relationships or abusing their own children.

Experts say child abuse and neglect are underreported and occur in families of all socioeconomic levels and ethnic groups. About 17,000 children die in the U.S. each year as a result of abuse and neglect, and the majority of abuse is caused by parents or caretakers. Last year there were an estimated 23,600 reports of suspected child abuse, neglect or abandonment in Orange County alone, involving more than 46,000 children.

After counselors and therapists, the second largest reporting group is teachers and school staff. School employees are mandated reporters, and they’re required by law to receive annual training on what they need to know to identify and report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect. School employees include teachers, coaches, aides, classified employees and all other workers whose duties bring them in direct contact of students.

In February, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced new online training to help school workers report suspected child abuse and neglect. Created by the California Department of Social Services, this free program teaches school employees how to identify suspected cases of child abuse, the obligation they have to make a report and the process to follow. The online Child Abuse Mandated Reporting Training is also available at no charge to the public.

Beyond mandated reporters, community members also have an important role in protecting children from abuse and neglect. Established in 1975, the Child Abuse Registry is the centralized place to report child abuse within Orange County. Child abuse reports and information given to child protective service agencies are always confidential by law. Unless you are a mandated reporter, you can choose to make the report without giving your name.

Your involvement may save a child and bring a family much-needed resources to prevent future abuse, including counseling, parenting classes and financial help.

This month and throughout the year, let’s work together to create safe environments for all children.

If you suspect a child is in trouble, call the 24-hour hotline for Orange County Child Protective Services to discuss at 800-207-4464. And for further guidance, you can find indicators of abuse and neglect here.