In 2012, an estimated 3.4 million referrals involving the alleged maltreatment of approximately 6.3 million children were made to state child protective services agencies nationwide.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 62 percent of the referrals were screened for investigation or assessment – one-fifth found at least one child to be a victim of abuse or neglect. Of the four-fifths cases in which no victim was found, 58 percent were unsubstantiated.
More than 78 percent of the victims suffered neglect, and over 18 percent suffered physical abuse. Fewer than 10 percent of the victims suffered sexual abuse, according to the national data.
As April marks National Child Abuse Prevention Month, authorities are pushing to raise public awareness and educate families and communities to ensure that youths are safe, healthy and thriving.
The theme for this year continues to be “Making Meaningful Connections.”
“Child Abuse Prevention Month serves as a reminder that we must all advocate for the protection of children, providing support and opportunities for success,” Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll said. “In order for our mission to be accomplished, it is critical that we work together at a community level to strengthen Florida’s families and end the cycle of abuse and neglect.”
Florida’s Pinwheels for Prevention campaign emphasizes the importance of healthly child development and positive parenting practices, officials reported. Blue and silver pinwheels will be displayed at local businesses, public offices and schools statewide, with related events and campaigns set for the month.
On Sunday, the Children’s Advocacy Center of Southwest Florida organized a Pose to Prevent Child Abuse photo event in downtown Fort Myers with the pinwheels. An estimated 50 people turned out.
“It was simply awareness,” Jill Turner, chief executive officer of the center, said of the event. “It was nice thing to show that there’s people in Fort Myers who care about the fight against child abuse.”
The Children’s Advocacy Center of Southwest Florida covers Lee, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties and offers abuse prevention services, child therapy, child protection team and more.
“We see over 4,000 of those kids a year,” she said.
In more than 50 percent of the cases, the child is found to be a victim of abuse or neglect.
The Fort Myers Police Department reported that there are four types of child maltreatment: neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse. Although any of the forms may be found separately, they often occur together. Each state is responsible for providing its own definitions – most include:
– Neglect: Failure to provide for a child’s basic needs (physical, educational and emotional)
– Physical abuse: Physical injury ranging from minor bruises, to severe fractures or death, as a result from kicking, punching, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting (with a hand, stick, strap or other object), burning or otherwise harming the child – such injury is considered abuse regardless of whether the caretaker intended to hurt the child
– Sexual abuse: Activities by a caretaker, such as fondling a child’s genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy indecent exposure and commercial exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials
– Emotional abuse: Any pattern of behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self worth, including criticism, threats or rejections, as well as withholding love, support or guidance
Turner noted that if someone suspects a child is being neglected or abuse, report it.
“I think people are sort of hesitant to report,” she said. “It’s better to err on the side of the child.”
Turner added that it is not the reporting party’s duty to decide if abuse has occurred.
Warning signs of neglect can include malnutrition, poor hygiene, or unattended physical or medical problems. Signs of abuse depend on the type and can range from unexplained bruises, burns or welts and age-inappropriate knowledge of sex, to delayed physical, emotional or intellectual development.
Turner pointed out that one of the biggest red flags is having the child talk about the abuse.
“If a child tells you, report it,” she said.
According to the 2012 data, approximately 1,640 children died due to abuse and neglect. Nearly 70 percent were attributed to neglect only or a combination of neglect and another maltreatment type, and more than 44 percent were from physical abuse only or physical abuse combined with another type.
DCF’s Florida Abuse Hotline accepts reports 24 hours a day and seven days a week of known or suspected child abuse, neglect or abandonment. To make a report, call (800) 962-2873 or visit online: reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us. Call 911 if you suspect or know of a child in immediate danger.
The Children’s Advocacy Center of Southwest Florida is at 3830 Evans Ave. in Fort Myers.