It’s Time to Prevent Child Abuse
By Jon Farmer and Esther Gieringer.
Whether we’re talking about food, shelter, education, or safety, children need the support of caring adults to meet their needs. We hear that “children are our future” but they are also frequently the victims of all types of violence. As we mark Child Abuse Prevention Month this October, we need to consider all of the ways that we can support children in our communities.
Childhood is the most important time in a person’s development. It is the greatest time of growth for our bodies and minds. It’s when we learn how to relate to other people and participate in community. It’s when we learn what normal is. Childhood is also when we are the most vulnerable. Even in Canada and in Grey and Bruce counties, children experience violence that is life changing.
A 2010 Statistics Canada study reported that 74,000 children and youth directly experienced violent crime that year. That’s a rate of 1,080 victims per 100,000 people under the age of 18 and is 10% lower than the adult rate. However, children and youth were five times more likely than adults to experience sexual violence. In 80% of those incidents, the perpetrator was known to the child. It was a family member, friend, or acquaintance.
When anyone experiences violence directly, it changes their life. For children, early violence can set a life long trend. Beyond direct experiences, children’s lives are also changed when they are surrounded by violence. Violence between parents especially can destabilize a child’s world. If a parent is experiencing abuse, their fear and pain impact the entire household. So does the aggression and anger of the abuser. Among other things, the impacts on children are evident when they act out at school, struggle to focus, or repeat learned behaviour in other relationships. There were 48 femicides in Ontario last year. In several of those cases, children were killed alongside their mothers or were killed to make their mothers suffer. These are the extreme cases but they are only extensions of common themes.
Even when a survivor of domestic or intimate partner violence can leave safely, their children’s lives are impacted. It is hard for children to adjust to new living situations, routines, and shifting relationships with their parents. After parents have separated, abusive behaviour can continue through the family court process. Children are frequently collateral damage as abusive partners use them to spy on, guilt, or harass their other parent. On top of this, our society continues to struggle to balance the conflicting needs of parental access and children’s safety. If abuse against a parent continues, children suffer because of it. This type of environmental violence destabilizes children’s lives. So does poverty.
The fact that our society continues to allow children to live in poverty, severely impacts the futures of those children. Early childhood safety, nutrition, and stability help children to grow and mature. When a family is struggling to put food on the table, keep a solid roof over their heads, and provide access to enriching activities, children know it. Children are smart and perceptive. They feel the stress created by poverty and it hurts them. Poverty is no more inevitable or necessary than any other form of abuse. Like gendered and sexual violence, our culture and society create it which means we can also change and prevent it.
Children who experience any type of violence need specific supports. They need health care, emotional supports and counselling, and a stable life. It is possible for children to heal and grow into caring engaged adults but that growth doesn’t happen on its own. As citizens, neighbours, families, and friends we help to build a child’s world. Child Abuse Prevention Month calls each of us to consider the world we’re building and how we can do better.
There are immediate answers to those questions. We can support social programming that reduce and address child poverty. We can contribute to programs that help give kids a head start through education, nutrition, arts, and sports. We can learn more about local child protection organizations like Bruce Grey Child and Family Services. We can raise awareness about human trafficking which disproportionately impacts teens. We can put children’s needs at the forefront as we negotiate our relationships, community spaces, and the justice system. We can recognize that violence against mothers is violence against children.
We can build a world where all children are safe. Recognizing that children suffer violence in our communities is the first step. What we do next is up to each of us and our communities.
For more information about Violence Prevention Grey Bruce, visit www.vpgb.ca.