April 15, 2005

Commentary:

Break the Cycle of Child Abuse

By California Attorney General
Bill Lockyer

The California Department of Social Services estimates that 374,378 referrals for investigation of child abuse and neglect involving 715,062 children were handled by local child welfare services agencies in our state in 2003.

Potential consequences of chronic exposure to violence on a child include increased depression, anxiety, anger, alcohol and drug abuse and lower academic achievement. Children who are victims of violence, or witness violence, often end up becoming violent themselves.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and a good time for us to reflect on what we can do to help protect our children from abuse, neglect and exposure to violence.

When parents suffer from physical, emotional or economic distress, we can offer our friendship, our time, our commitment and our energy to help a child. As parents, caretakers and other concerned adults, our most important responsibility is to assure that children live in a secure, safe and stable environment. Failing to take action can have devastating consequences.

A poster on the impact on a child of repeated violence at home is available free from www.safefromthestart.org, a website produced by my Crime and Violence Prevention Center as part of our “Safe from the Start” project to reduce children’s exposure to violence.

It is also important for us to put renewed emphasis on how to treat children so that they grow up emotionally stable and secure. Told from the eyes of a child, a new mini-brochure for parents, “Ten simple things that can boost my brain power” can be ordered free directly from the Safe from the Start web site.

The site also provides valuable refresher information on how parents and community members can help build self-respect and emotional stability in children, including:

Encourage attachment. Smile, look at children directly and greet them by name. Compliment children on their good behavior in front of their parents.

Build self regulation. Model calm, self-regulated behavior, especially in frustrating situations. Maintain a predictable environment in which young children know what to expect. Smile and make positive comments to reinforce self regulated actions.

Develop affiliation. Let all children know that they are important and special members of the group. Take advantage of opportunities to role-play appropriate social behavior. Gently guide loners into more social interactions. Give youngsters a chance to let others see their talents.

Create awareness. Refrain from making stereotypical remarks. Accept invitations to visit classrooms and youth groups and share your ethnic heritage.

Demonstrate respect. By showing your respect for young children’s families, you are showing your respect for them. Model respectful actions to those with whom you interact in the child’s company.

Foster tolerance. Act quickly when children in your company use intolerant language or behavior, gently explaining why it is inappropriate. Continually reinforce the concept that each person is a special, unique individual.

Additional information on child abuse prevention and on modeling behavior that will teach children how to live without resorting to violence is available from my Crime and Violence Prevention Center’s website at www.safestate.org, or by calling (916) 324-7863.

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