The FWSU Story: April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

Child abuse and neglect take on many forms. In 2017, a record 21,201 calls were received by the Vermont Department for Children and Families Child Protection Line. More than two-thirds of those calls were made by mandated reporters, such as school employees. Of the total reports, 5,527 investigations were opened and 876 cases of abuse or neglect were substantiated in Vermont. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, risk of harm, risk of sexual abuse, emotional maltreatment and/or neglect top the list of substantiated behaviors.

Reports of suspected abuse or neglect in Vermont have increased annually since 2013. Of the 10 DCF field offices in Vermont, our own St. Albans office received the greatest number of reports of alleged abuse or neglect, with 686 in 2017, second only to Burlington, who had 976 reports in the same year. The St. Albans DCF office also had the second greatest number of substantiated reports in 2017, and the greatest number of cases opened for ongoing services statewide.

Each year, more than 3.6 million referrals are made to child protection agencies across the United States. These reports involve more than 6.6 million children. The United States has one of the worst records among industrialized nations, losing an average of between four and seven children every day to child abuse and neglect. Across the US, a report of abuse or neglect is made every 10 seconds.

While child abuse and neglect are complex problems, research shows that there are many simple and cost-free ways that families and communities can work to combat this epidemic. Shared here is a calendar produced by Prevent Child Abuse Vermont and the Vermont Department for Children and Families. The calendar suggests several ways to build a caring, safe community that is resistant and resilient to abuse and neglect. Please take a look and decide if some of these suggested activities are right for your family.

Since 1983, April has been designated Child Abuse Prevention Month in the US, with a goal of promoting an awareness of the problem and suggesting strategies for intervention. Prevent Child Abuse America has established the pinwheel as a happy and uplifting symbol of childhood and to draw attention to the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Also shared here is a pinwheel coloring sheet and a pattern and instructions for creating your own pinwheel. I hope your family will consider enjoying these activities together.

Act 1 is a legal mandate that requires Vermont schools to train employees to recognize and report the signs of child sexual abuse. Additionally, schools must provide developmentally appropriate instruction to students on how to recognize and prevent sexual abuse and violence, how to promote healthy and respectful relationships, developing and maintaining effective communication with trusted adults, recognizing sexually offending behaviors, and gaining an awareness of community resources.

In Fletcher, School Counselor Lisa Coale uses the Second Step Child Protection materials to fulfill these requirements in a way that is developmentally appropriate, understandable and non-frightening to students. In the younger grades, the skills and concepts taught include identifying safety rules, recognizing safe and unsafe situations, demonstrating ways to stay safe and applying assertiveness to unsafe situations. As the curriculum progresses in duration and advances in grade level, students learn about identifying safe and unsafe touches, refusing unwanted physical contact and how to alert an adult when assistance is needed. Families are informed of specific content as it is taught.

At Fletcher, we work hard to teach children the skills to proactively prevent abusive situations. Together with families and the community, we can dramatically reduce the incidence of these traumatic events.

Sources:

2017 Report on Child Protection in Vermont (Vermont Department for Children and Families)

Childhelp.org

Christopher Dodge is the Principal of Fletcher Elementary School and is a regular contributor to THE FWSU STORY. You can follow him on Twitter @FletcherFalcon

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