Here are the basics:
• Child abuse is an epidemic in the United States, and right here in the Augusta region.
• More children die from child maltreatment than any other cause of death of children.
• Children are 75 times more likely to be sexually abused than develop pediatric cancer.
• Children are 167 times more likely to be sexually abused than to have autism.
• Children are abused, neglected and/or sexually abused at alarming rates. There are 39 million adults in the United States who were sexually abused when they were children.
If you don’t care, or don’t believe this, or even if you simply don’t know what to do, you are part of the reason why our society has not set a priority about protecting children. If you think that your children are safe, and that you are protecting them, that is something – but it is not enough. In protecting children, all children are important.
THE AMAZING THING is that everyone can do something to prevent child abuse, or help a child who has been abused.
The other really amazing thing is that children who have been abused can and do recover from even the most horrible maltreatment. They simply need some help to do so.
The miracle of preventing child abuse will not happen unless some level of a tipping point of public awareness is achieved. The belief that we can change the child abuse epidemic builds into a child protection and abuse prevention movement.
How long will we tolerate the abuse of children?
At this point, children are exhibiting more courage than adults in protecting themselves and their peers. Children fight back, run away or tell an adult quite often. Yet, children also tell and are not believed, or are physically abused and intimidated into not reporting. Families commonly do exactly what officials within the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church and Penn State University did – they cover it up, conceal it and protect the most horrible secrets.
All children should feel safe enough to tell about maltreatment. Only adults can assure this. Do you have enough courage to protect children? It is not as difficult as you think. The majority of adults already believe that child maltreatment is horrible and reprehensible, but evidently not enough to take action – at least not yet.
HERE ARE SOME reasonable goals for our community:
• Raise awareness about the issue of child abuse in our community through media, outreach, presentations and events.
• Support adults in their role to protect children and prevent child abuse.
• Equip adults with the knowledge and skills to recognize the signs and symptoms of all forms of child abuse.
• Educate adults about how to make appropriate reports of abuse.
• Provide information for families regarding the availability of resources in the community to treat the aftermath of child abuse.
Nationwide, Child Advocacy Centers and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) programs help children to recover from abandonment, abuse, neglect and sexual abuse. Augusta is home of the first advocacy center in Georgia, and is one of the first CASA programs in the state. Both are part of Child Enrichment.
Child Enrichment served 673 child victims of abuse, and 385 of their nonoffending parents or caregivers just last year. Each of these children needed help to recover; to be safe; to find a new and permanent home; and to understand that being abused was not their fault. Helping these children is not easy. Yet, everyone can do something to prevent abuse or to help child abuse victims.
Donate money. Child Enrichment programs provide professional therapeutic services. No fees are charged, and with these services children can and do recover. Got money and want to help? Just $1,000 will give a child victim of abuse a chance to fully recover; $250 will pay for an average forensic interview or therapeutic assessment; $50 will pay for a therapy session; and $10 will pay for a group therapy experience for a child or a nonoffending adult caregiver.
Donating money not for you ? Volunteer. CASA volunteers go through a thorough criminal background check, 40 hours of training and are sworn in by a Juvenile Court judge if they are chosen to represent a child or sibling group removed from their parents because of abuse or maltreatment. CASA volunteers promise to stay involved with the child or sibling group until they have a safe, permanent home.
IF THAT IS TOO much for you, you can volunteer doing office or special-event work, and we have a few positions working in the Clothing Closet. Child Enrichment provides clothing to any needy child, and we assist a few other charities in the region by providing clothing.
Still not a good fit for you? How about learning about prevention of abuse. Please attend one of the child abuse prevention programs that Child Enrichment presents, titled “Darkness to Light: Stewards for Children.” It will teach you how to protect your children – and all children.
Even if none of those ways to help work for you, you can attend one of our special events. The Art of Chocolate will be Oct. 11, and the 25th annual Cookin’ for Kids will be next March.
Please know that it will take adults to bring an end to child abuse. Until then, too many people are inappropriately hoping that children can protect themselves. That is not good enough.
Your help is needed. Please help if you can, and learn more at www.ChildEnrichment.org.
(The writer is executive director of Child Enrichment Inc., the Child Advocacy Center and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) for abused children in Augusta.)