Child abuse can be defined as an act of omission or commission by a caregiver, parent or any other person that results in actual harm or threat of harm to a child. Intentional and deliberate acts such as psychological, sexual and physical abuse are known as acts of commission, while failure to provide for a child’s educational, basic or emotional needs are examples of acts of omission. Child abuse is a serious problem in many countries around the world today. In the United States alone, nearly 900, 000 children are confirmed as having been abused every year. Countries can prevent child abuse using a number of strategies where parents, the government, families, the community, teachers and caregivers may be involved (McMillan, Jamieson and Walsh, 2003). These strategies include development of early childhood programs with relevant child protection policies, involving family members in preventing child abuse, public regulation strategies, promoting positive relationships between children and their caregivers, and through parent education strategies.
According to the National Association For The Education of Young Children (1996), homes, schools and childcare organizations should develop early childhood programs and adopt policies that can help prevent child abuse. Firstly, these programs should have adequate number of qualified staff with experience in working with children. When adequate staff is employed, the number of children handled by each adult staff is reduced. This ensures that individual needs of the children are met because teachers will easily identify changes in behavior that indicate the possibility of abuse. Secondly, program environments should be designed in such a way that, private or hidden locations in which abuse may occur are avoided. In other words, all early childhood program spaces should be regarded as public (National Association For The Education of Young Children, 1996).
Thirdly, all program staff and volunteers should receive orientation and be made to understand what constitutes child abuse, how to provide appropriate guidance for children, strategies of preventing potential abuse situations, signs of potential abuse, and procedures for reporting cased of child abuse. Fourthly, caregivers and teachers should receive continuous assessments by qualified personnel in order to find out whether they engage in acts that may indicate signs of child abuse. Generally, all program policies should seek to reduce risk of child abuse (National Association For The Education of Young Children, 1996).
Child abuse can also be prevented by involving family members in childhood programs. Most actions that cause harm to children or put them at risk of harm are contributed by their family members. Childhood programs should provide opportunities for family participation because family member and parents can greatly assist in prevention of child abuse in these programs. There are several ways through which family members can be involved in childhood programs including; increasing their sensitivity to children’s communication, understanding when to use the various child abuse reporting procedures, and consulting other families who use the program (National Association For The Education of Young Children, 1996).
Public regulation strategies can also be used to prevent child abuse in schools and in most child care institutions. This is an essential public effort towards reduction and prevention of potential abuse of children in various childhood programs. These public regulations vary depending on the program type, and all nations have regulatory processes for use in child care homes. Public regulations strategies can help reduce the potential of child abuse when all educational and care institutions for two or more families are subject to regulation. In addition, the public regulatory standards must be able to meet their intended purposes without any external interference. Other factors that determine the ability of public regulations to reduce the potential for abuse in childhood programs include availability of sufficient funds for provision of adequate regulatory staff and the presence of skilled and highly experienced personnel (National Association For The Education of Young Children, 1996).
Parent education strategies involve increasing parents’ awareness of interventions that promote positive parenting, caring, and creation of safe and supportive environments for children. The most important goal of child abuse prevention is improved parenting. The rate of child abuse is high in cases of parental mental illness, child conduct problems, domestic violence, and parental substance abuse. Knowledge of these issues is very critical in designing effective parenting education programs. Child care professionals believe that child abuse is likely to recede if parenting programs are effective (Holzer, Bromfield and Richardson, 2006).
Barth (2009) points out that the risk of child abuse is increased when parents lack knowledge of child development, child rearing skills and social support strategies for children. Therefore, the main purposes of parental education are to; increase parental knowledge of child development, help parents to develop child rearing skills, and to assist parents to deal with the challenges and difficulties experienced in parenting. With all this knowledge, parents will be adequately informed about how they should properly take care of their children and avoid acts that may harm them or put them at potential risk of harm.
Child abuse can also be prevented by promoting stable, safe and nurturing relationships between children and their care givers (McMillan, Jamieson and Walsh, 2003). In this context, stability refers to the degree of consistency and predictability in a child’s environment. Children are considered safe when they are free from psychological or physical harm within their physical and social environment. Nurture is used in this context to refer to the extent to which a caregiver is available to be able to respond to the needs of a child. Caregivers should be taught how to develop positive relationships with their children in order to help reduce cases of child abuse (McMillan, Jamieson and Walsh, 2003).
Children are exposed to a variety of caregivers, both within and outside their home environment. Child abuse can occur at the hands of these caregivers including aunts, uncles, house helps, school personnel, uncles or even grandparents. Consequently, the nature and the quality of these relationships are important in determining how a child is handled by the caregiver. Encouraging stable, safe and nurturing relationships between caregivers and children can help greatly in preventing child abuse (McMillan, Jamieson and Walsh, 2003).
Other than strategies that focus on reduction of particular risk factors, promotion of protective factors that increase the well-being and health of children can also be used to prevent child abuse. These protective factors involve strategies that can help parents who are at risk of neglecting or abusing their children to provide proper parenting even under stress. Through promotion of nurturing and attachment between the patent and the children, children tend to trust in their parents for all their needs. In addition, parental knowledge of child development helps in providing an environment where the child can live up to his potential.
Like the already mentioned protective factors, parental resilience also plays a big role in preventing child abuse. Children with parents who are emotionally resilient are less likely to receive frustrations and anger from their parents (Barth, 2009). Parents should also establish social connections with family friends who can offer encouragement and assistance on matters concerning the daily challenges of raising a family. Additionally, concrete support for parents can also help in preventing child abuse. According to Barth (2009), one of the risk factor for child abuse is family poverty. Therefore, providing parents with basis needs such as housing, food and clothing can assist them in promoting well-being of their children (Barth, 2009).
In conclusion, every person in the community has the responsibility of preventing child abuse. Strategies to preventing child abuse focus on the government, parents, families and the public at large. The strategies may involve reduction of the potential risks for child abuse or protection of occurrence of such risks. Most importantly, families need to be assisted to find the strength they need to raise healthy and safe children. The entire community should therefore help any family that is under stress, reach out to needy children, participate in forums that fight against child abuse, keep children safe, and learn how to identify signs of child neglect and abuse.
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