According to the Indiana Department of Child Services, between July 1, 2006, and June 30, 2007, there were about 825 sexually abused, 352 physically abused and 1,609 cases of neglect among Hoosier children. The number of unsubstantiated cases is even higher for those categories.
Although the main culprits behind child abuse are domestic violence, mental health and substance abuse, individuals around the state believe those numbers represent one child too many.
Even though there is no excuse for child abuse, Phyllis Kikendall, manager of prevention services for the Department of Child Services states some of the causes behind physical, sexual and emotional abuse stem from today’s stresses like housing issues, rising prices, and unemployment.
The department has hired 800 new caseworkers on the local level, but in addition to state programs, other child service programs are not focusing on the problems of child abuse, but rather tackling the prevention of child abuse.
One of the many programs going on around the state is the Gov. Mitch Daniels backed Kids Can’t Wait campaign, which was the outgrowth of high profile child abuse cases like Tajanae Bailey.
“It would appear as an outsider looking in, that there might have been touch-points where an adult could have gotten some support and perhaps prevented that child’s death,” said Sharon Pierce, president and CEO of The Villages, an education and training provider of the national initiative Prevent Child Abuse America.
Pierce, along with Dr. Eugene White, superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, are co-chairs of the campaign and felt the sense of urgency to increase the priority of child abuse, provide the needed services for parents and change the culture of the acceptance of asking for help.
“I never understood how it’s acceptable for us to ask for help on how to wear our hair, how to cook stir fry, or how to do a better job at Microsoft Office, but it’s not acceptable to ask for help in the most important and difficult role that any of us could have; being a parent,” said Pierce.
Pierce adds that through the campaign, parents are taught to think ahead, such as anticipating a crying baby that’s sick, asking a trusted friend or family member to help during highly stressful times, positive but effective discipline strategies or setting boundaries for teens who want to test the limits. The Kids Can’t Wait Campaign simply encourages parents to be proactive and use coping strategies that can sometimes defuse potential child abuse.
Some tend to think the campaign’s proactive model may be naïve when it comes to a drunk parent who’s unable to think clearly or a parent without health care to treat their mental illness, but Kikendall believes the community must get to parents’ real issues such as job loss or lack of education to stop child abuse.
“There are many factors involved in how a family reacts to different situations. We have a lot of issues that are within our society that we’re recognizing so we can help get the community resources we need and refer them,” said Kikendall.
Because child abuse isn’t an isolated issue, many believe it’s also up to the community to lend a helping hand to a struggling parent, or provide a safe haven for a child to help end child abuse. Friends, family and neighbors can look out for the signs in parents but most importantly the children which include withdrawal, fear of adults, acting out, or physical bruises.
It knows no race or socioeconomic status and it’s required by law that child abuse is reported. Agencies statewide are encouraging the community to make child abuse their business and parents to not be afraid to ask for help when necessary.
“Our message in child abuse prevention has been ‘Cherish the Children.’ We are not just affecting them today, but for the rest of their lives. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be boundaries, but there should be mutual respect. Then we can often go to communication instead of physical altercations,” said Pierce.
For more information, call Prevent Child Abuse America at 1-800-CHILDREN; the Marion County child abuse hotline 1-800-800-5556; The Villages at (317) 273-7575 or visit www.indianakidscantwait.org.