Child abuse experts don't know if child abuse is getting worse or if rising numbers just mean that more people are reporting it.

They can say, though, that child abuse is the No. 1 cause of death in children under age 1. They point out that the number of deaths in all age groups is rising. And they agree that prevention is the ultimate goal of child advocates, something achievable only by "breaking the cycle" of abuse.April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month. Members of the Utah Chapter of the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse - volunteers representing industry, professionals and communities - hope that designation of the month and planned fund-raising activities will draw attention to a problem that is destroying - or at least scarring - America's future.

The key, according to Barbara Layden, president of the Utah chapter, is education, focused on three groups: children, those who are or could become abusive and others who know about or suspect abuse.

"We need to educate children that they don't have to accept abusive behavior from anyone," Layden said. "I would like it if every child in the state of Utah could say no to abusive behavior and report it."

By law, anyone who suspects abuse must notify authorities or the Division of Family Services.

Layden said she has been bothered for 30 years by a family that lived across the street when her own family was very young. "The (neighbor) kids were always bandaged and had burn marks. They were too prone to accidents, but I didn't do anything about it. I was naive. Now, I dedicate my service to that family."

The chapter recently published a booklet to give new parents information and skills they will need to avoid abusive situations. Put together with the Children's Trust Fund and distributed in area hospitals, it acknowledges that being a parent is not always wonderful and offers tips on coping.

"We need to educate people to know that their feelings - frustration, irritation, whatever - are natural," said Tia Davis, executive director of the chapter. "OK, so sometimes the baby isn't as cute as you thought it would be. Maybe all you need is 10 minutes away. But you have to recognize that such feelings are natural and cope with them, instead of lashing out. The book is a good reference."

One of the chapter's goals is to assess programs and see where gaps in child prevention occur, then try to fill those gaps. Child Abuse Prevention (CAP) team volunteers work with the Division of Family Services and law enforcement agencies in each community.

The group also focuses on adolescence, "the time when the feelings start. We haven't targeted this group before, but it's important to see the difference between normal and abnormal feelings," Layden said. "Then we can break the cycle."

"You don't have to have been abused or abused someone," Barbara Gann, board member, said. "Everyone's had some experience with abuse. It's a neighbor or a story you hear. We're all touched by it. And we bring it to the board of the committee, because we want to do something before the fact, not after the fact."

The Utah Chapter for the Prevention of Child Abuse will hold its annual fundraising dinner and silent auction at Little America May 1.