So, for some reason, April is a month with lots of themes, and apparently lots of those themes are oness that are important to me in particular. You know, Earth Day, Nat'l Infertility Awareness Week. You'll also be seeing National Pay It Forward Day coming through here later this week. Well, April is also National Child Abuse Prevention Month. And, you know, since I'm a social worker and all, there was no way I could let that one get by without at least making a mention.
I could give you all the statistics about child abuse. Tell you how many children are victims (both survivors, and those who don't make it to their next birthdays) every year, every day, every minute. I could show you pictures of kids who have been burned. Or neglected. Or raped. Or simply had the shit beat out of them. I could talk about risk factors for abuse. Or red flags (behavioral, physical). Or give you a list of typical perpetrator characteristics. I could tell you how children are affected short-term, long-term by their abuse. I could give you information about how - as a society - we are all affected by the children who are abused and their perpetrators.
I could do all of these things. Many I could easily spout off a running list for you off the top of my head, without even having to look up the research.
But I won't. Not today at least.
Today I am going to tell you a story about a little boy. I'll call him Nick. Nick was less than 6 months old when I met him. His parents were not married, but were upper middle class, both working outside of the home. They generally had someone in one of their families care for him when they were at work or otherwise unavailable. He lived mostly with mom, but dad saw him regularly throughout the week, overnight a couple times a week.
One morning mom picked him up from an overnight with dad. She took him over to her boyfriend's house, because neither of the grandmas were available that day. He stayed with her boyfriend until she got off of work at about 5pm. She got home close to 6pm with Nick. A couple of hours later, she was giving him a bath and he started having a seizure.
Nick's mom called 911 and they took him to the hospital. The doctor noted that he had a couple of bruises on his ears. Bruises his mom denied knowing anything about. CT scans and x rays were ordered. Nick had a skull fracture. And a broken arm. And a couple of broken ribs. And retinal hemorrhages. He also had an old break in his leg. And a couple of more broken ribs that were healing.
In short, he had injuries in multiple stages of healing. This baby had been abused on more than one occasion. In his very, very short life.
I don't know who shook this baby (because that absolutely is what happened), but somebody did. My strong suspicion is that he was actually shaken by more than one person, and on more than one occasion. I don't think we'll ever know who was responsible for these atrocities.
Here's what I do know. Nick is blind in one eye. He isn't able to eat on his own (will always need a feeding tube). He has frequent seizures. I have no idea what developmental milestones he may meet. He has a new family who loves him. And the list of what he's lost, it's too long. So is the list of what his parents lost.
You, yes you, have the power to prevent child abuse. And here is what you can do. Learn the facts about child abuse, educate yourself. Talk about abuse - with your family, with your partner, with your childcare providers, with your children. Listen to your gut - if something feels like it isn't right, it probably isn't. Know what to do if you have suspicions. Get involved. But, above all, know your limits. Because(and here's your one statistic for today) most often the person responsible for a child's abuse, is one of his parents.
I'm tired of seeing the Nicks of the world in my child protection office, in my Emergency Department, when I'm doing therapy. I'm tired of there being Nicks in the world. We are all responsible for protecting all of our children. If we work together, if we all act when we have a suspicion, if we keep our eyes open, we can stop it. So that the Nicks of the world will be happy, loved, and safe.