At issue | Various Herald-Leader news articles, editorials concerning child abuse
It's fair to say there aren't any politicians, legislators or people in power in favor of child abuse. It might be impossible to find anyone who promotes abusing children.
But do a news search for child abuse and you'll get back a flood of stories detailing all manner of atrocities inflicted upon children.
In 2007, Kentucky had the unfortunate distinction of having the highest rate of child abuse deaths in the country.
Nationwide, 81 percent of abusers are parents (natural, step-parents, adoptive); 71 percent of those who kill a child are parents, according to government statistics.
The numbers can be overwhelming. But new advances in brain science give us insight into the issues that could help us make some tiny steps forward in the struggle.
People tend to think even very young infants act with intention and interpret a child's crying as defiance. Parents need to know that young children's behavior is often reflexive — occurring without conscious awareness or intention.
Crying and other perceived misbehaviors are expected reactions when a child can't yet comprehend his environment and hasn't yet developed the ability to reason or regulate his emotions.
Eliminating unreasonable expectations and understanding normal childhood behavior significantly decrease abuse of children.
Hospital nursery programs that teach new parents about the dangers of shaking infants and home-visitation programs for first-time parents are some new initiatives that have shown potential for decreasing child abuse.
The bruises, scars and disabilities resulting from physical abuse are visual reminders of the trauma some children endure in their homes.
Less obvious, but equally important, are the scars and damage left by neglect, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, exposure to drugs, violence, untreated mental illness and criminal activity in the home.
This chronic stress derails normal development by changing the biology of how the brain functions. It interferes with memory, language and comprehension during early childhood and school age.
Childhood symptoms may include inattention, depression, impulsivity and aggression. Adverse childhood experiences are associated with later adoption of risky lifestyles (such as smoking, drug use, obesity, unprotected sex), early teen-age pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections.
The more harmful early experiences we are exposed to, the stronger the likelihood we will develop chronic disease, be disabled and die prematurely.
Basically, abused children survive by responding with anti-social behaviors that are necessary in an environment in which their well-being is constantly threatened.
These behaviors will be neurologically, structurally ingrained and difficult to change unless children receive early, consistent, nurturing interventions to re-wire the brain; "just getting over it" isn't possible.
The longer the gap between trauma and treatment, the more solidly entrenched are the neurological abnormalities.
Knowledge truly is power. Although most of us are not in a position to influence policy and budgets, all of us can begin to make small changes by taking this knowledge and using it every day in our own lives:
■ Develop a supportive community among parents where you live. Isolation is fertile ground for abuse and neglect.
■ Reach out to a child you know — call him by name, give her a smile. Ask how he's doing. A common factor among children who overcome extreme adversity is the presence of one supportive adult during their childhood.
■ Donate time, food and used clothing to families in need. This may decrease the financial stress that parents sometimes take out on kids.
■ Turn off violent TV shows, movies, video games — exposure to violence (especially early in life) reinforces violent behaviors and desensitizes us to the suffering of others.
■ Take a deep breath; think about what you're doing. Put yourself in time-out before striking out at a child.
■ Protect your child. Get out of a violent relationship, stay away from people involved with drugs or crime, don't let casual acquaintances babysit. A caring, nurturing environment creates caring, loving kids.
■ Report suspicions of abuse or neglect by calling 800-752-6200. Timely intervention can make the difference between a child's life and death.