Tales From Utah Valley: How can we help those affected by child abuse?

April 7, 2019

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a month dedicated to bringing awareness about and sharing ways to prevent child abuse.

In the United States, nearly 700,000 children are abused each year, according to National Children’s Alliance. Utah County is not immune. About 2,000 cases of child abuse and neglect are reported to the Division of Child and Family Services and our local police departments each year, according to Utah County Children’s Justice Center’s website. Those numbers are discouraging, but we can all help.

The Children’s Justice Center, which serves children and their families after the disclosure of abuse, had 803 new child victims come through to be interviewed as part of the investigatory process during 2018. During that same time, the center was also serving an additional 3,355 family members of the children and others in the community seeking crisis assistance due to child abuse.

Providing a safe environment for children when they are talking about something as difficult and traumatic as the abuse they have gone through or witnessed is one goal of The Children’s Justice Center. The homelike atmosphere of the center is much more comforting to a traumatized child than being interviewed in a police station.

One 11-year-old being served at the center said, “You helped me by making me feel more comfortable about what happened to me. And what I liked about this visit was when it was over and relief hit me and you know what happened and helped me more.”

A 13-year-old wrote, “You helped me by getting the true story of what happened. Thank you for listening to me, it’s great. I liked the fact that I felt safe and welcome here at the CJC. You guys are amazing. Thank you for being here for kids like me!”

According to Rebecca Martell, the center’s director, it is more than just a homelike atmosphere. The people, including law enforcement officers, case workers, and the center’s staff and volunteers, make the Children’s Justice Center feel special and comfortable for children.

“It is an entire system working together for children,” she said.

So how can the rest of us help? First, report possible abuse. According to http:// childwelfare.gov, some signs of physical abuse include unexplained injuries, children who are frightened of their parents, crying when it is time to go home, shrinking at the approach of adults and abuse of animals. Signs of neglect include being frequently absent from school, begging or stealing food or money, lacking immunizations, lacking medical and dental care, consistently dirty, lacking weather-appropriate clothing and lacking supervision at home.

Signs of sexual abuse include difficulty walking or sitting, refusing to participate in physical activities, nightmares and bedwetting.

Supporting the important work being done at the Children’s Justice Center is another great way to help. There are many volunteer opportunities there, such as the victim support program, being a child’s mentor, working with children’s and teens’ groups and donating activity kits. For more information about The Children’s Justice Center, go to https://www.utahcounty.gov/dept/cj c.

If you, as a parent, need help, check out childwelfare.gov. There are tip sheets available on a variety of topics such as bonding with your baby, finding adequate housing, dealing with temper tantrums, feeding your family, teen parents and support after an adoption.

Let’s celebrate April by doing more to prevent child abuse and by helping those who have been affected — and continue this effort throughout the year.