Dean Sparks, executive director of the Lucas County Children Services.
Parenthood is sometimes frustrating and overwhelming.
While most parents do what’s best for their children, an increasing number of child abuse victims in northwest Ohio shows that for some, caring for kids is at times too much to handle.
“We have a lot of parents that are overwhelmed,” said Tammy Knighten, coordinator of the Child Abuse Prevention Program at Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center in Toledo. “Many of them have their own issues with drugs and alcohol; others are working multiple jobs and have kids in situations with sitters and caregivers that aren’t best for them.”
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and Toledo area agencies are staging a series of events to empower parents and the community to better care for children, as well as remember those children who lost their lives due to abuse and neglect.
In Lucas County, one child died between April, 2013, and this month as a result of maltreatment and community violence, down from 12 children between April, 2012, and April, 2013, Lucas County Children Services reports.
In 2013, the department received almost 5,000 referrals for suspected child abuse or neglect. Of the 7,300 children involved in those reports, 952 were confirmed as maltreated, an increase of 16 percent from the year before. Of those cases, less than 10 percent of the children involved were removed from their homes, said Dean Sparks, executive director of LCCS.
“Children belong with families,” Mr. Sparks said. “So we work hard to try to empower parents to better care for their kids, whether it’s parenting education or connecting them with resources.”
Child abuse and neglect occur in all segments of our society, but risk factors are greater when parents abuse alcohol or drugs, are isolated from family and friends, are unable to provide for their children’s basic needs, or have difficulty controlling anger or stress, Mr. Sparks said.
It’s not against the law to spank children in the state of Ohio. However, if injuries are caused, it’s no longer considered discipline.
“We’re not talking about a red mark on their bottom, but bruising, and more severe injuries. That’s abuse,” Mr. Sparks added.
While physical and sexual abuse may be the most obvious forms of abuse, they aren’t the only ones. Emotional cruelty and neglect — failure to provide adequate food, shelter, medical care, clothes, and education — are also types of maltreatment.
Emotional cruelty and neglect — failure to provide adequate food, shelter, medical care, clothes, and education — are also types of maltreatment.
“If you have a 13-year-old child who you’re keeping at home from school, to make her watch preschoolers while you do what you’re going to do, that’s neglect,” Mr. Sparks said.
“Emotional abuse is being put down, name calling, and being told you’re not a good person,” said Mrs. Knighten, who works with school staff and families on how to prevent violence and sexual abuse against children.
“Feelings play a big part in it.”
Both the Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center and Lucas County Children Services encourage families to talk to their children, create a support system for them, and identify people who they can talk to about their concerns and feelings.
In addition, both agencies stress the importance of early intervention and supportive services, such as parent education and home visitation, as effective ways to prevent child abuse and neglect.
Many incidents of child abuse occur behind closed doors, but when they happen in public, Mr. Sparks said adults need to intervene on behalf of the child.
“We’ve all seen that mother losing control, hollering and snatching a child. Speak to her in a supportive way,” he advised.
“Tell her you remember what it was like to have a child that age. She may turn her anger on you or cuss me, but I can take a cussing better than that child can take a beating.”
Warning signs that a child has been abused or neglected include nervousness around adults, aggressive behavior, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. Some children may act out sexually in ways that are not developmentally appropriate.
“We can empower our children, but the ultimate responsibility for protecting children lies with adults,” Mrs. Knighten said.
“We have to pay attention and listen to our kids. Typically kids don’t make this up, so if a child says something happened, something happened.”
Contact RoNeisha Mullen at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6133.