A Child's Cry
● By Style
April marks National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
The definition of what constitutes child abuse is lengthy and goes beyond a caregiver leaving physical marks on a child. Emotional and sexual abuse, and general and severe neglect are also prevalent in our community and often are harder to recognize.
RECOGNIZING THE SIGNS
How do you know if what you witness or suspect constitutes child abuse? Natalie DeMartin-Cavalli, MSW, social worker for Sacramento County Child Protective Services in the Emergency Response Intake Department, as all social workers do, follows a protocol to ascertain situations where abuse may be happening. “Our tool called Structured Decision Making (SDM) assists us in determining the appropriateness of a child abuse report for response by our agency.” SDM defines a wide array of circumstances that could fall under the heading of child abuse. “For example,” DeMartin-Cavalli explains, “the SDM says emotional abuse is present when a caregiver’s actions are so persistent and/or severe that they are likely to result in the child’s severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior toward self or others.” But bystanders should consider that the child might not show symptoms of trauma or abuse at all.
IF YOU SUSPECT ABUSE
Sometimes it may just be a gut feeling. Report it. It’s as easy as making a phone call to Child Protective Services. “When CPS is called a licensed worker will take a report over the phone and ask what was said, seen and heard,” says Karen Garcia, youth counselor from Cool in El Dorado County. “They will also ask for the reporter’s name and information, which is kept strictly confidential,” she adds. Some reports do not rise to the level where an investigation is warranted; however, depending on the situation, CPS may send a social worker to the home or school of the child. “It is important to remember that it is their job, not our job, to determine if abuse is really happening, and to what extent. Sometimes it can be scary calling to report something to CPS,” Garcia explains, “but it is important to remember that CPS gets involved to help repair families and situations, not pull them apart. They will work with the victim and their loved ones to learn how to communicate and cope better, to avoid possible future abuse.”
CALLING FOR HELP
If someone recognizes signs of child abuse or suspects child abuse, they need to call Child Protective Services. In Sacramento County, call 916-874-KIDS; in Placer County, call 866-293-1940; and in El Dorado County, call 530-642-7100.
A local nonprofit, KidsFirst, has been around since 1989 and has helped keep 50,000 local children safe from abuse and out of Child Protective Services and foster care. Based out of Roseville, but serving the whole Sacramento-Sierra region, the organization focuses on parent coaching, in-home visits, family counseling, emergency assistance, and children’s health insurance enrollment. “Research demonstrates that for every dollar invested in prevention services, taxpayers save four dollars in remediation,” says Tilisa May of KidsFirst. To support child abuse prevention in our local community, visit endchildabusenow.org.