With holiday bills coming due in January, the struggling economy and the stress that comes with it, right now can be a very dangerous time for children.
Experts say many parents who are overwhelmed often take out their anxieties and frustrations on their kids. Child abuse and neglect can increase when families are under stress, in the middle of a crisis or at the end of the proverbial rope. In the last two years, physicians at the Center for Child and Family Advocacy (CCFA) at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, say that child abuse and neglect cases at the hospital are up 40 percent. In 2008 alone, they provided more inpatient consultations for suspected abuse and neglect than any year since the hospital has been compiling data.
"When the stress of economic realities clashes with the challenges of raising a child, even parents who have the best intentions can harm or neglect their children," said Yvette McGee Brown, president of the CCFA. "The best way to prevent child abuse and neglect is to provide parents with the support, skills and resources they need to be effective caregivers, particularly during this difficult time."
There is no specific test that can determine if a child is at risk. However, when parents lose employment, worry about paying the rent or feeding their children, they often feel isolated and frustrated. Without support, some parents reach the breaking point and lash out at their children.
Being mindful of the risks of child maltreatment within our immediate surroundings and community is essential for everyone. "If you know of families or friends who are experiencing high levels of stress, look for ways to help alleviate the tension," continued McGee Brown. "Offer to watch their children for a few hours, invite them over for dinner or stop by for a visit to give them support."
Nationwide Children's Hospital offers these tips to help ease parent-child tension in a public place:
- Strike up a conversation with the adult to divert attention away from the child
- Try to get the child's attention by talking to him or her
- Avoid negative remarks or looks, which can increase the parent's anger and make matters worse
- Praise the child and parent at the first opportunity
- Stand by the child left unattended until the parent returns or contact an employee of the business where you are or a security guard
The hospital also recommends these tricks to parents when they need to cool off in a moment of anger:
- Take a few deep breaths
- Close your eyes and imagine what your child is about to hear
- Press your lips together and count to 10
- Put some physical space between you and your child
- Turn on some music and sing along
- Drink a glass of cold water
- Call a friend
Anyone who suspects a child is being abused should call the local Children's Services agency. If the situation is violent or the child is in immediate danger, call 911.
Mary Ellen Peacock