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By: Dr. Tami Silverman   

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, and the pandemic has raised additional concerns around the safety and well-being of our kids. Public health emergencies, by introducing additional family stress and the loss of financial supports, often increase the risk for child abuse and neglect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. The reduction or suspension of the critical social supports provided by schools, afterschool, and youth services in the past year also raises risk concerns.

As outlined in our 2021 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, child maltreatment reports have decreased during the pandemic, although this may be due in part to children being home and not in school with mandated reporters. Nationally, educators are the primary reporters of child abuse and neglect, generating about 20.5% of such reports. It was difficult for teachers and other mandated reporters to determine abuse or neglect while only virtually interacting with their classes. Child maltreatment reports are expected to increase once children go back to school in-person full-time, due to the ability of educators to monitor students more frequently and visually assess neglect and abuse.

In 2019, the most recent numbers available, the Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline received 242,482 reports, a more than twenty percent rise over what was reported in 2014. Approximately 1 out of every 9 hotline reports are determined to be substantiated, resulting in 28,799 child victims of substantiated allegations of child abuse or neglect in 2019, a rate of 18.4 cases of abuse or neglect per every 1,000 Hoosier children. This is an overall increase of 8.1% since 2014 (26,634), although it is a decrease of 11.9% from 2018 (32,799). The most common form of substantiated allegations is neglect (82.9%), followed by sexual abuse (8.8%), and physical abuse (3.5%). Of the 28,799 substantiated allegations, nearly 3 in every 5 involved children under the age of 7.

Every adult in the Indiana is a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse and neglect. It is critical that we all be familiar with how to report child abuse. A hotline report must be made if you have a reasonable suspicion that child abuse or neglect has occurred. You do not need to have direct knowledge of abuse or neglect. But how do you know what actions correspond to the legal definitions of abuse or neglect?

Indiana’s Child Abuse and Neglect Law, IC 31-34-1, lists definitions for child neglect, physical abuse, psychological maltreatment and sexual abuse. Basic, straightforward lists of both physical and behavioral indicators of each category of maltreatment are as follows:

  • Signs of neglect include: persistent hunger, developmental lags and consistent fatigue.
  • Signs of physical abuse include: unexplained bruises, numerous bruises in various stages of healing, and marks on many surfaces of the body.
  • Signs of sexual abuse include: the child having sexual knowledge advanced for their age, preoccupation with their body, and acting out sexual behavior.

Although each of these signs may be found separately, they often occur in combination.  As a youth worker, teacher, coach, caring family member, or neighbor, you may be in the ideal position to see that something is not right in a child’s life.

The Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline, 1-800-800-5556, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Reports can be made anonymously. Visit Prevent Child Abuse Indiana’s website (www.pcain.org) to learn more and to find awareness events in your area. You can also locate your nearest Prevention Council Child Advocacy Center by visiting their website at www.incacs.org/find-cac/.

April is designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month, but the work of protecting our children is something we must all commit to every day of the year.

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(Dr. Tami Silverman is the President & CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org  or on Twitter at @Tami_IYI. IYI’s mission is to improve the lives of all Indiana children by strengthening and connecting the people, organizations, and communities that are focused on kids and youth.)