(WMBD) — April marks National Child Abuse Prevention Month, raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of possible child abuse and neglect.
On March 30, Peoria police arrested the parents of Navin Jones, who Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood called “one of the worst cases of abuse” that he has ever seen. The 8-year-old boy died as a result of physical abuse due to neglect, Harwood said.
The Central Region Prevention Specialist for Prevent Child Abuse Illinois, Jill Duden, overlooks Central Illinois. She said awareness is key in preventing something like the death of Jones from happening again.
“It is a heartbreaking situation that we hear about all too often, not only in our area of Illinois but statewide and nationally,” Duden said. “The biggest piece we want to convey is to just be constantly aware, just be proactive in your community.”
Signs of possible child abuse
Duden listed the most common red flags that can indicate potential child abuse and/or neglect, and how to be aware of such signs.
For infants and young toddlers, changes in related to sleeping, as well as excessive behavior crying, are warning signs. In older toddlers, withdrawn behavior is an indicator, as well as the loss of a learned skill.
“If a child is living with chaos or violence, or if there’s abuse or neglect in the home, we’ll see a regression of a learned skill,” Duden said.
Toilet training is an example of a skill older toddlers can lose in such a circumstance, Duden said.
Another red flag is inappropriate seasonal clothing, she said. For example, children may be dressed in extra layers during warm weather to cover up physical signs of abuse.
“Kiddos are going to fall, they’re going to get bruises, but if we’re seeing lots of bruises in various stages of healing, if we’re seeing cuts and bruises on the face, on the back, on the torso, again, in various stages of healing, that might be a red flag or warning sign,” Duden said.
Older children, Duden said, can display an array of behaviors that are red flags for abuse. These include physical issues like headaches, stomach problems, or a spike in anxiety or depression. Aggressive behavior, increased isolation, and eating disorders are also examples.
Duden pointed out nightmares and other sleep issues as common red flags. Additionally, if a child attempts to run away or is scared/unwilling to go home, Duden said that should set off alarm bells. Another indicator of neglect is a child taking on a parental role, perhaps for younger siblings.
If you see something, say something
To report suspicion of child abuse, Duden said the best first point of contact is the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) Hotline, 1 (800) 25 – ABUSE.
“They don’t have to have confirmation of abuse or neglect, they just have to suspect that something is going on,” Duden said.
Adults in mandated reporter roles, like school teachers or hairdressers, are required to report suspicion of abuse. Duden said there are best practices for responding to a child who discloses such personal information.
“If a child discloses to them if they have been abused or neglected, there are some appropriate responses for that,” Duden said. “Number one, it’s just really important to believe the child. It’s really important to convey that it’s not their fault. No matter what the age is, children need to hear that. They need to hear, ‘I’m sorry this has happened to you.’”
Duden also warn not to promise things the adult cannot deliver, such as promising the problem will never happen again.
‘We all have a role to play’
“I think it’s so important to focus on child abuse prevention throughout the month of April,” Duden said. “We want to provide lots of extra resources for the community, to promote awareness. Our goal throughout the month is to let everyone know that we all have a role to play in preventing child abuse and neglect.”
Duden said every community member can help in the effort to curb child abuse in Illinois and nationally. She said monetary donations and volunteerism go a long way.
Crittenton Centers, Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), and the Children’s Home Association of Illinois are all Central Illinois organizations Duden commended for their efforts to help children.
Finally, Prevent Child Abuse Illinois will offer virtual, free training all month, Duden said. Those resources can be found here.