A community matter: Child abuse results in human toll and economic burden to society

Published: Sunday, Sept. 30 2012 11:18 p.m. MDT

"The community can play a huge role in being eyes and ears and protectors of children if they know what to look for and if they're then willing to make the call," Tracey Tabet, the Children's Justice Center Program Director for the state of Utah, told the Deseret News. "It's not enough just to know what to look for, you have to be willing to act."

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The roar of 15 motorcycles could be heard down every street in the small town of Monticello one cold December afternoon in 2009. An armada of herculean riders clad in leather made heads turn in curiosity, but Dawn felt instant comfort knowing the bikers had come to keep her and her family safe.

Dawn's four daughters had been molested by a family friend and the Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) volunteered to stand and shield the girls during the man's trial.

Severe child abuse increased as the U.S. housing crisis worsened during the 2000s, according to a recent study published online in the Journal of Pediatrics. Researchers found that for every 1 percent increase in the 90-day mortgage delinquency rate, the number of child abuse-related admissions to hospitals increased 3 percent. Knowing how to respond to and help prevent incidents of child abuse allows families and community members to stand together to reduce abuse, experts say.

In 2008, child protective services at the federal, state and local levels had 3.3 million reports of child abuse or neglect, with 772,000 confirmations of children being abused, a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control this year found. More than 10 percent of the child population was in some way abused — physically, psychologically, or sexually.

"Child abuse is happening at epidemic proportions," Suzanne Leonelli, Executive Director of Prevent Child Abuse Utah, told the Deseret News. "It is associated with adverse health and mental health outcomes in children and families, with impacts that can last a lifetime. We must position ourselves to prevent it."

A community matter

In addition to the horror of the abuse itself, children who have been abused have a higher propensity for health problems, mental health problems, substance abuse problems, delinquency problems, academic issues at school and even criminal problems, James Hmurovich, president of Child Abuse America, told the Deseret News. "When we don't stop abuse from occurring, there is a higher probability that a child will fall into two or three of those cases. And it is costing us."

"Those children can become bullies," Hmurovich added, " those children can disrupt the learning cycle in the classroom, those children are the ones who push other children on the playground."

"People need to pull their heads out of the sand, wake up and realize that everybody is impacted by child abuse," Dawn told the Deseret News. Her name has been changed to protect the identity of her victimized children.

While the effects of child abuse result in an obvious human toll, there are also monetary losses. An estimated $80 billion is spent each year to remediate the effect of maltreatment when it is not prevented, according to a study conducted by Prevent Child Abuse America this year.

The lifetime cost for a victim of child abuse and neglect is an estimated $210,000 this year, according to research conducted at the Centers for Disease Control.

Child maltreatment in the U.S. poses an economic burden upon the whole of society, Hmurovich said. "It's overly simple. The best prevention strategy is to stop abuse and neglect from ever occurring, as a nation."

Signs and symptoms

The first step in stopping abuse and neglect is recognizing early signs. The presence of one sign is not a sure indication that child abuse is occurring in a family, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advised on childwelfare.gov. "A closer look at the situation may be warranted when these signs appear repeatedly or in combination."

Sudden changes in behavior or school performance, difficulty concentrating and arriving early to school or other activities or staying late, with a reluctance to go home, can be signs of abuse, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services noted. Watch for a child that is overly compliant, passive or withdrawn, or lacks adult supervision.

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