It shouldn’t hurt to be a kid

Published 4:30 pm Wednesday, April 11, 2007

“It shouldn’t hurt to be a kid,” is from a McGruff poster. You remember him, right? He’s the dog dressed in a trench coat that promotes “take a bite out of crime” which is still a promotion of the National Crime Prevention Council. The month of April is Child Abuse Prevention month.

What exactly is child abuse?

It can come in many different forms, but the state of Mississippi has defined it in four different categories: Emotional and verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect.

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When anything threatens a child that is said or done such as belittling them like, “You’ll never amount to anything.” Or using foul or harsh language, threatening to murder them or tear off an arm are forms of verbal abuse and emotional abuse. Emotional abuse attacks a child’s security and self-esteem.

Sexual abuse is exploitation of a child or touching a child anywhere the bathing suit covers or forcing a child to participate in or view any sexual activity.

Physical abuse is inflicting pain and/or physical injury, cruel or inhumane corporal punishment that leaves marks on a child. (This does not include reasonable punishment such as a spanking.) Actions such as putting a child in too-hot water, cutting the child, twisting or yanking the child’s arm or leg, putting tape over the child’s mouth, tying up the child with rope or cord, locking in a closet, and throwing across a room or down the stairs are forms of abuse that occur regularly in substantiated cases.

Neglect includes lack of basic care such as inappropriate clothing for weather conditions, no regular baths, hunger, lack of medical and dental care, home alone with no supervision, and a structurally unsafe home with little or no heat. Any or all of these things constitute neglect, and these are the most common forms of abuse.

Comparing figures from 2001 to 2004, the Administration of Children and Families states in its 2006 report of findings for 2004, “During the past 3 years, the rate of victimization and the number of victims have been decreasing. An estimated 872,000 children were determined to be victims of child abuse or neglect for 2004. The rate of victimization per 1,000 children in the national population has dropped from 12.5 children in 2001 to 11.9 children in 2004.”

But in Pearl River County, the cases are not decreasing. There were 242 reported cases of child sexual abuse in Pearl River County in 2004.

“But, in 2005, that number jumped to 549 reported sexual abuse cases,” said Pam Cross, director of LIFE Resource Center located here in Picayune.

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) reports most victims are under the age of three. According to the report, “More than 60 percent of child victims were neglected by their parents or other caregivers. About 18 percent were physically abused, 10 percent were sexually abused, and 7 percent were emotionally maltreated. In addition, 15 percent were associated with “other” types of maltreatment based on specific State laws and policies. A child could be a victim of more than one type of maltreatment.” Of the 872,000 victims of child abuse, 1,490 children died due to child abuse and 80 percent of those were under the age of four.

“I think a lot of it has to do with Katrina-stress,” Cross said Monday. “They are in a little FEMA trailer dealing with the loss of their property and they are angry. Because of unmet expectations, people have high stress levels. The police are seeing a lot of road rage, too.”

In July of 2002, the Child Abuse Education Council opened the LIFE Resource Center to provide education, intervention and prevention for victims of child abuse. That includes family violence and at-risk families as well.

Child abuse is found at every level of our society, but studies show (ACF statistics prove) that there are some high risk factors which are more prevalent in some families: Alcohol and/or drug abuse, isolation from community or family, anger management issues, attitudes of uninterest toward their children, and low income and housing problems.

ACF reports approximately 79 percent of child abuse perpetrators are parents. Seven percent are other relatives of the child; and four percent are unmarried partners of parents; whereas five percent are noted as “other”.

After child abuse is reported and it has been determined by Mississippi Dept. of Human Services that it was child abuse, the family undergoes an in-depth assessment with the child’s safety as primary concern. The local PRC office of MDHS refers the family to LIFE Resource Center where the parents can take parenting classes, and anger management classes. They receive Support Services and counseling that can help them cope with their problems.

“Eighty-five percent of those who continue with the counseling beyond the basic, court-ordered classes have a better chance of reunification with their children,” Cross said. “They increase their knowledge by 95 percent, and in so doing, they acquire new life skills, new habits and new patterns. This increases their success rate, especially when they apply their knowledge.”

LIFE Resource Center offers Child Safety classes where children 3-18 years of age are taught how to prevent abduction and sexual abuse. Character education classes teach the basic foundations of character which are Responsibility, Resect, Trust, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship. The are also anger management classes for children.

Parenting classes include Teen Parenting. The Early Intervention Parenting teaches nurturing skills and practice hands-on basic care using RealCare dolls. Parents can learn disciplining skills, and logical consequence punishments.

“If a punishment like grounding isn’t doing any good, why keep using it?” Cross said, emphasizing the importance that logical consequence punishments really work.

Parenting of Teens teaches how to talk to teens about abstinence, and handling divorce issues with children.

Another program has been added about Transitioning from high school into the work force. This class teaches young adults the life skills necessary to “make it” in the real working world.

Cross said that these classes are available at the Center, or, since they have limited spacing, they will come to the school or church or other organization and teach the classes. Call Pam Cross at 601-799-5886.

If you want to report suspected abuse of a child, call the Pearl River County Dept. of Human Services at 601-798-9585, or after hours, call the police or sheriff’s office.