Let’s Talk About Child Abuse

Have you ever wondered if a child you know is okay? I have wondered and worried about that. What I need to do is SPEAK UP. That’s what you need to do too.

By Pam Dillon

It happened when the youngest and I were rambling through the mall on a lazy afternoon a few weeks ago. He was on one of his epic quests – for a ball cap or an equally critical teen accessory – and I was along for the part involving an open wallet and a cash register. We were happily chatting and browsing when there was a commotion in the middle of a brightly lit department store. Both of us looked over. The noise-maker was a wee guy, maybe three years old, and he was not having a good time. Seated on the floor by an inside wall, he had his arms crossed and the heels of his scuffed runners dug in. The little lad was in mutiny mode. He’d had enough of this shopping business and it was probably an hour past his afternoon naptime.

It’s a familiar scenario, one most parents have experienced at some time or another. Young children tend to get cranky and kick up a fuss when they’re overtired, over-stimulated or in circumstances for which they have not yet developed coping skills.  In this situation, there was no coping – period. The mom/caregiver started yelling and swearing. She gave him a couple of swats. Shoppers couldn’t help but stop to witness the altercation. Still, the little boy wouldn’t budge. His older brother attempted to cajole him into compliance, with no success. Furious, the mom grabbed the boy and dragged him roughly out of the store by the arm, yelling and swearing all the way. It was awful.

I felt sick, but did nothing. At the time I thought any intervention by a stranger might make her more angry and more likely to take it out on her child. My real concern was about what that wee boy might experience at home.

I need to do better at using my voice on behalf of kids. We all need to do that.

October is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Through the month, the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) and Children’s Aid Societies (CASs) across the province have been spreading the message that it takes everybody – the whole community – to keep kids safe.  We all have a role to play in protecting children and youth. That means speaking up and calling the CAS if we notice signs of abuse, neglect or a family in crisis.

According to the OACAS, “Last year, Children’s Aid received more than 167,900 referrals about possible abuse and neglect of children and youth.” CASs investigated over 85,000 cases and 47,078 families received ongoing CAS protection services. In 90 percent of cases, children were able to remain at home while the CASs worked with the families to make them more stable and safer for kids.

When we don’t speak up, kids and families don’t get the help they need. The OACAS provides this useful information:

“What is abuse and neglect? Abuse is when a child is hurt intentionally, or when a parent or caregiver fails to protect a child in their care. It’s against the law. Physical abuse and sexual abuse are clear examples of maltreatment, but so too is neglect: the failure to meet a child’s basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, sleep, medical attention, education and protection from harm. Children can also be emotionally abused when their parent or caregiver attacks their emotional development and self-worth by constantly criticizing, teasing, bullying, rejecting or ignoring. Learn more, at www.useyourvoice.ca/en/protect/#/what-is-abuse.

What are the signs of abuse and neglect? Unexplained injuries, fear of a specific adult, difficulty trusting others or making friends, sudden changes in eating or sleeping patterns, poor hygiene, secrecy and inappropriate sexual behaviour may be signs of family problems and could indicate a child is being abused or neglected. Remember you don’t need to be sure that a child is being abused or neglected – let your local Children’s Aid Society know what your concerns are and we will determine if a child is in danger. Learn the signs of abuse by visiting www.useyourvoice.ca/en/protect/#/signs-of-abuse.”

It is our legal duty to report suspected abuse or neglect to the Children’s Aid Society. In Ottawa, call 613 747-7800. The phone lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For details, check www.casott.on.ca.

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