By Linda E. Johnson
Although Governor Shumlin and governors throughout the United States take time to proclaim April as Child Abuse Prevention Month, there are children in need of nurturing and protection every day and every month. We all have a significant role to play. If you know a parent who is stressed and could use a break from his or her children, offer to babysit. Raising children can be a demanding, sometimes exhausting experience for parents and especially for single parents.
The African expression, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is absolutely true. Many parents lack extended family close by to offer that break for a parent and to model how to manage children’s misbehavior appropriately. Feeling isolated and on your own with children can often lead to stressful moments that can escalate into behavior we regret. Children don’t need perfect parents but they do need to feel and be safe. Children do well when they can trust their parents to be stable, supportive and nurturing. Children thrive when they know they can talk with their parents, share concerns and ask for help with small and big problems.
Part of protecting children means that every child has someone in his or her life whom he or she can confide in. Parents aren’t the only adults children need to depend upon. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, family friends, teachers, neighbors, yes all of us need to step up and be part of the “village.”
And importantly, if something seems questionable, question it. Speak up if another adult or older child or teen is bullying or hurting a child physically. Intervene if you observe someone touching a child in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. Speak up and say what is making you feel uncomfortable. This is often a very effective way to stop child sexual abuse before it starts. If you believe a child is being abused, call the 24-hour hotline at the Vermont Department for Children and Families at 1-800-649-5285. You do not need to have proof that this has occurred, just a reasonable suspicion.
Each of us can help families be strong and children be healthy. If you are interested in volunteering, donating or receiving help please give Prevent Child Abuse (PCAVT) a call at 1-800-CHILDREN. We offer information, support and referrals on our helpline and programs for parents, child care programs and schools. Learn more about PCAVT by going on our website, www.pcavt.org.
Linda E. Johnson is the executive director at Prevent Child Abuse Vermont.