When you think of vulnerable groups in our society, who do you think of? Children are one of the most vulnerable groups because they have no power when compared to adults. This lack of power means they have no ability defend themselves. Typically children are able to survive and thrive because of loving supportive adults in their life. However there are children that do not have adults who care for them. When this happens children are often abused and neglected and society must step in to protect them. But how do we know when a child is being harmed?
The Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers these guidelines for recognizing child abuse and neglect.
“Physical abuse is non-accidental physical injury (ranging from minor bruises to severe fractures or death) as a result of kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, hitting (with a hand, stick, strap, or other object), or otherwise harming a child. Such injury is considered abuse regardless of whether the caregiver intended to hurt the child. Physical discipline, such as spanking or paddling, is not considered abuse as long as it is reasonable and causes no bodily injury to the child.”
“Sexual abuse includes activities by a parent or caregiver such as fondling a child’s genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials.”
“Emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance. Emotional abuse is often difficult to prove and is almost always present when other types of maltreatment are identified.”
“Neglect is the failure of a parent, guardian, or other caregiver to provide for a child’s basic needs. Neglect may be physical, medical, educational, or emotional. Physical neglect is failure to provide necessary food or shelter, or lack of appropriate supervision. Medical neglect is failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment. Educational neglect is failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs”
We must rise up and defend children when they are trapped in these situations. Children do not have the ability to assess their own situation and need adults outside the suspect circumstances to evaluate and recommend appropriate changes.
— Katherine B. Wiens is a doctor who is a member of the Court Appointed Special Advocates Board. She and board member Micheal Blackford have written a series of columns for Child Abuse Prevention Month.