April is Child Abuse Prevention Month…
for a reason: to bring the prevention of abuse to everyone’s attention. Child abuse was first prosecuted under animal cruelty laws, as women and children were considered the property of men. As the head of the household, the man was in charge. Phrases like “rule of thumb” referred to how large of a plank could be used when a man hit his wife. There were no laws preventing child abuse; there were no laws barring domestic violence.
Laws are passed that are in response to current social norms. As social norms change, so do the laws that govern what communities will find acceptable. Should we all “know” that children should be treated as the treasures they are? Of course! But unfortunately, that is not the case.
Child abuse cases come to be investigated when reports are made. In small counties, every report may be followed up. Whether this causes us to be in a “nanny state,” or our current social norm just believes we need to make sure our most vulnerable citizens are protected, there is a protocol to be followed. We may not have made the same decision to investigate an alleged child abuse case that those in authority did, but it is their decision, not ours. There is limited information provided before an investigation ensues, hence the investigation. If someone is not cooperative in an investigation, it raises more questions. Most of us can make a good decision once all the information is available. And that availability of information is a sticking point if a family were not inclined to be cooperative. But remember, if an investigation is not made, ramifications from that may involve its own liability.
As with all systems in which fallible human beings are involved, mistakes will be made. Hopefully, systems watchdogs will keep an eye on situations to ensure no one gets too much authority over others. But there are now, and unfortunately always will be, situations that are not clear cut and decisive. Who should get involved, and when?
A child born to an addicted mother must suffer through withdrawal. Again, with the overview of society’s norm, when did this child first get abused? Some would say when the child took its first breath; some believe from the moment of conception. At least the child wasn’t killed before it had the opportunity to draw its first breathe. Then there is the wait as the child grows to see what sorts of disabilities may be present, and their severity. Brain damage, physiological damage; hearing loss, visual impairment, learning disabilities, attention deficits – all have been linked to drug and alcohol abuse in expectant mothers. Most of these types of cases are not prosecuted. And then there is the child’s mother. What is the rest of the story there? More often than not there was abuse to her as a child, maybe a series of foster homes. Was there no one looking out for her, or did she find her sociologically necessary acceptance somewhere – even in illegal drugs.
Or how about this: the current financial depression leaves parents and caregivers stressed. Do they compartmentalize this stress, ensuring it never touches their beloved child? Or do their tempers fray when their resources no longer stretch far enough to cover the expenses for things they promised that child. Then guilt and remorse step in, and the happy family starts snapping at each other, and their anger causes them to demean and diminish those they love the most. This is not a case that would necessarily be reported, but is there not damage being done to that child?
All of the actions we take in life – positive or negative – impact us, and those around us. When we as adults are fortunate enough to be in the presence of children, we are role modeling adult behavior, acceptable responses. Even if we wish it were not so, children are watching us, learning from us. Do we hold ourselves to the same standards we want them to achieve? Our children are our future care givers, and if we want them to treat us with dignity and respect, that is what we need to teach and show them now.
Be nice to a child. Any and all of them. Our children’s future is in our hands….