Uncovering Child Abuse
What do we do if we suspect it in a neighbor’s family, a friend’s family – or even our own?
The women’s group was sitting in a Richmond living room, waiting for me to dig into my collection of age-related jokes. They were old enough to get the humor.
Afterward, a 50-something lady asked for help. Her daughter-in-law blocked contact between this granny and her grandchildren. This worried granny no end.
“Maybe go where the kids are,” I suggested. Cheer at their ballgames, attend their church, volunteer at their schools, remember birthdays and holidays. “All children need other loving adults to let them know they’re loved unconditionally,especially kids whose caregivers restrict healthy the immediate family,” I added, channeling Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the late expert on death and dying.
At that, a 40ish woman interrupted: “I disagree! I control who my children see and who they don’t.” The front door snapped shut behind her.
Whoa, Nelly. What did I say?
Turns out that she didn’t allow grandparents to contact her kids because, the neighbors said, the grands’ mainstream beliefs didn’t jibe with hers.
Sad if true.
CHILDREN – AND PARENTS – NEED OUR SUPPORT
Supervised or restricted contact makes sense, though, when anyone is verbally, emotionally, physically or sexually abusive.
It was Kübler-Ross who reminded me that children need adults’ support. A loving look when children are scolded by Big Folks can let kids know they are all right despite missteps, she said.
And she told me that dying patients had reported that as little as one kindness from a relative, a neighbor, teacher or friend had anchored them for life.
Parents also need empathy, especially when struggling with poverty, unemployment, marital problems or domestic violence, according to child welfare expert Lynne Edwards. She is a licensed clinical social worker and community consultant with the nonprofit group Greater Richmond SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now, at grscan.com).
The best way to prevent abuse or neglect is to reach out to parents with compassion and concrete support, Edwards said. Neglect is the most prevalent form of child abuse.
Parents who were abused as children, who don’t understand child development, and/or who can’t manage their emotions are at greater risk for neglecting and abusing their offspring, though these factors don’t necessarily predict that someone will mistreat their children, Edwards noted.
But if parents learn how children develop, have sources of help in times of need, interact meaningfully with others and get emotional support from family, friends and community, these factors diminish the potential for abuse and neglect, she continued.
IF YOU’RE WONDERING, GET HELP
What if the grandparents are concerned about parental behavior that threatens children’s wellbeing? Such concerns may range from the aforementioned list to parental drug and alcohol abuse, mental or physical illness, violence and things like constant belittling and threatening.
Any parent, grandparent, professional and others can get help with parenting questions or discuss abuse concerns by calling the nonprofit Prevent Child Abuse Virginia helpline, 800-244-5373 (pcav.org). Affiliate organizations also give talks to community and professional groups.
If the situation is dire, or if the child is sexually abused or in danger, report child abuse and neglect at Virginia Child Protective Services at (800) 552-7096 (or dss.virginia.gov). You can also report to local departments of social services. Your report is anony- mous if you prefer.
“I have zero tolerance for abuse of any kind, child or adult,” said social worker Linda Shields, Chesterfield care coordinator for Senior Connections, The Capital Area Agency on Aging.
“You’ve got to get help, sooner rather than later. Don’t let it drift. Without serious intervention, the behavior will continue and it just gets worse.”
You do not have to prove that a parent or another person who is in a caregiving role is unfit, Edwards said. That’s determined by social services investigators.
A warning based on tales from frustrated grandparents: Make sure the investigator doesn’t ask the child questions within parents’ earshot or ask questions that reveal the identity of the person who reported the problem.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, with opportunities to learn more.
Betty Booker is a retired Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter and columnist. Contact her at Betty@TheBoomerMagazine.com.