Springtime at Dunebrook welcomes daffodils, blue birds and Child Abuse Prevention Month.

During April, Dunebrook joins with agencies across the nation to energize communities in taking a stand against child abuse. Child abuse is a difficult topic to read about in the newspaper or hear about on the evening news. Any time a person is harmed or dies at the hands of someone else it is tragic; but, when a child is the victim, it’s especially heartbreaking. We cringe to think of what he or she endured. Unbelievably, the harm to a child comes most often – 70% of the time, in fact – at the hands of parents. (Children’s Bureau, 2016)

This data trashes the myth from many of our childhoods that scary guys in trench coats lurking in dark alleys are the ones who hurt children. As it turns out, the scary person may not be a stranger at all.  

It may seem out of place to think about a dark subject like child abuse against the joyful backdrop of spring as crocuses are budding and robins are flitting about building their nests. But, it’s a necessary conversation. Keeping children safe is as vital to our being as water and oxygen. Our future depends on them.

Sadly, child abuse and neglect happens every day. Last year, nearly 400 cases of maltreatment were substantiated in LaPorte County. It’s safe to safe that many more children are endangered, but for a reason only they know, people with suspicions or concerns don’t make the call to ask for the situation to be investigated.

Raising children is no easy task. Every age brings its own challenges. I’ve known countless parents who would pay any sum to trade the teenage rebellion years for the sleepless nights with a fussy baby. Families who have a support network – people who are there to help – are very lucky. Sometimes, giving a parent an afternoon alone to wash dishes, enjoy a bath or sleep uninterrupted, brings renewal and energy.

A stranger once told me that he didn’t care about child abuse, because he didn’t have children. Little did he know that victims of abuse have an increased likelihood of engaging in juvenile delinquency, substance use, promiscuity, teenage pregnancy, adult criminal behavior and dropping out. These problems erode the quality of life of any community. Businesses can’t thrive in a town that doesn’t have a reliable and talented workforce. Schools can’t succeed if students don’t show up for class. Residents lock themselves indoors when they don’t feel safe.

Prevent Child Abuse America reports that child abuse costs our nation a whopping $220 million every day. The bill is footed by taxpayers – and pays for things like investigations, foster care, health care, special education and incarceration. That’s a huge expense for a societal problem that is 100% preventable.

While child abuse puts a dent in taxpayers’ wallets, it’s nothing compared to the price paid by victims. They can’t “unknow” what they’ve experienced. Abused children are more likely than their peers to grow up to suffer from eating disorders, anxiety, a profound distrust of others, depression and suicidal thoughts. They often struggle with personal relationships, even turning into a victimizer or continuing as a victim. So much lost potential…

Oftentimes when abuse happens, there is someone who knows; someone who could call police or the Department of Child Services and get help to that child. Unfortunately, for some, there is an unspoken fear in making that call. Maybe it’s a fear of a child being removed from his or her parents, or fear of making a report when abuse isn’t substantiated, or expecting that someone else will make the call, or having the notion that it is no one’s business. Whatever the reason, every call that isn’t made could be the story we read about in tomorrow’s newspaper.

Under Indiana law, IC 31-33-5-1, “… an individual who has reason to believe that a child is a victim of child abuse or neglect shall make a report…” This mandate tells us that the impetus is on each of us to speak up on behalf of a child.

If you are worried about a child’s safety, call the hotline at 800/800-5556; and, if you fear the child is in imminent danger, call 911. Your call may be the first time anyone has tried to get help to the family. You may call anonymously, and won’t be prosecuted for making a call in good faith. A child’s life may depend upon it.