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April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.
In 2011, S.C. Department of Social Services (SCDSS) officials report that the agency investigated 17,514 cases of abuse or neglect throughout the state. Of that number, 6,810 cases indicated some form of abuse.
Lancaster County investigated 423 cases of abuse or neglect, and, of that number, 152 cases indicated some form of abuse.
Unfortunately, those numbers only reflect the incidents reported and indicated by the department. Many other incidents of abuse and neglect are never reported and never investigated.
Child Abuse Prevention Month is an important opportunity to inform citizens of some of the possible signs of child abuse and neglect.
Abused children may show sudden changes in behavior or school performance. Possible signs of abuse don’t prove a child is being abused or an adult is an abuser; however, it could be a signal that the child, adult or family needs help.
Signs of physical abuse include:
u Unexplained burns, bruises, black eyes or other injuries. Apparent fear of a parent or caretaker and faded bruises or healing injuries after missing school.
u Sexual abuse signs include difficulty walking or sitting, or other indications of injury in the genital area; sexual knowledge or behavior beyond what is normal for the child’s age and running away from home.
u Emotional abuse include acting overly mature or immature for the child’s age, extreme changes in behavior, delays in physical or emotional development, attempted suicide and a lack of emotional attachment to the parent.
u Signs of neglect include missing school a lot, begging for or stealing money or food, lacking needed medical or dental care, being frequently dirty, using alcohol or other drugs and saying there is no one at home to take care of him or her.
u Signs of an abusive adult may include seeming unconcerned about the child’s welfare at school or at home; denying problems at school or at home or blaming the child for them; seeing the child as worthless or as a burden; avoiding discussing the child’s injuries or giving conflicting explanations of them; abusing alcohol or other drugs; seeming isolated from other parents and the school and community activities; using harsh physical discipline or asking other caretakers to use it; depending on the child for emotional support; seeming indifferent to the child; seeming secretive or trying to isolate the child from other children; frequently blaming, belittling or insulting the child.
Many state and local children’s service agencies are working to make the public more aware of the issue and ways they can help stop or identify abuse.
Anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect should report their concerns to the county DSS where the child lives. State law mandates any professional who works with children, including people who work in education, medicine and law enforcement, to report suspected child abuse and neglect. For details, visit www.preventchild-abuse.org; www.dss.sc.gov or http://www.scchildren.org/.
Janice Chapman is the county director for the Lancaster County Department of Social Services.