April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. At CALM, we work every day to prevent childhood trauma, and this month we take extra care in raising awareness — from our flags on State Street to the blue ribbons we wear with pride.
April is a time to engage our community about the importance of providing safe, consistent and loving environments for all children. It is a time to remember the urgency of this issue and the reality that too many children experience early trauma — things such as abuse, neglect, exposure to violence in the home, parental substance abuse or mental illness — on a regular basis.
To ensure that all of us can do our part, I asked Mariana Harms, CALM’s manager of clinical training, for some tips and tools she provides community members to recognize and report childhood trauma.
» Physical neglect is often demonstrated through signs of malnutrition, poor hygiene, and unattended physical or medical needs.
» Physical abuse may appear as unexplained bruises, burns, or when a child appears frightened or uneasy with a parent or caregiver.
» Signs of sexual abuse can include inappropriate sexual play with toys, self or others and children not wanting to be left alone with certain people.
» Emotional abuse can include name-calling, threats of injury or threats of neglect, such as “I’ll leave you here by yourself.” Altercations between adults, such as yelling profanities or physical aggression, in front of children are also a type of emotional abuse and can leave long-lasting impacts on the child.
If you witness any of these situations, I encourage you to intervene if it is safe to do so. You can approach the adult and child while maintaining neutral affect. Ask the child if he or she is all right and show the child that you are there to help. Inquire about what is happening and if you can be of any support. If the situation calls for it, try to get some distance between the adult and child. If the child is in immediate danger, call 911.
If you know or reasonably suspect a child has been the victim of child abuse or neglect, I urge you to call the Child Welfare Services abuse hotline at 800.367.0166. You are not required to prove the abuse or to collect evidence. If you’re unsure, even for a moment, please report it. It can be the first step for a child and an entire family to receive the supports they need.
Unfortunately, only one in four children who experience early trauma receive help along the way. That means a full 75 percent of children suffer in silence.
Lucky for us, we are at a pivotal moment for children’s mental health and our efforts to combat Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Gov. Gavin Newsom is leading this endeavor by including $45 million in his proposed budget to fund screening for ACEs. In addition, he also has appointed Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, M.D., as California’s first-ever surgeon general.
Dr. Burke Harris has dedicated her career to understanding the link between ACEs and long-term chronic health outcomes. She has consistently advocated for the health and wellness of all children and families who have experienced trauma.
With this tremendous leadership, the state of California is poised to tackle the issues of childhood adversity from both policy and budget perspectives. In Santa Barbara County and at CALM, this is particularly exciting as we spearhead efforts to educate the community on childhood trauma, intervene for families at risk, and provide critical educational and therapeutic resources.
If you want to learn more about ACEs, please feel free to read my previous article (April 2018) titled, “Santa Barbara Resiliency Project Puts Focus on Childhood Trauma.”
Although the scope of these issues can feel daunting, I am heartened to know that early adversity is an issue we can absolutely address. As Dr. Burke Harris says, “Childhood trauma is treatable … it is beatable. The single most important thing we need today is the courage to look this problem in the face and say, ‘This is real and this is all of us.’ I believe that we are the movement.”
— Alana Walczak is CEO of the nonprofit CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), a leader in developing programs and services that effectively treat child abuse and promote healing, as well as programs that help prevent abuse through family strengthening and support. Click here for more information, or call 805.965.2376. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.