Children are the future. That’s why April is officially National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. The US Children’s Bureau, part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, takes the month of April to focus on teaching people to recognize and fight back against child abuse of all kinds.
This is an unfortunately high-stakes battle. Since the start of the pandemic, it is suspected that unreported child abuse has significantly increased. With school shutdowns, many children have spent considerably more time at home and away from mandatory reporters who could notice and assist victims. This suspicion is supported by studies demonstrating that reports from other sources, including medical professionals and law enforcement, stayed the same while education worker reports dipped dramatically.
It seems likely that more children are suffering unreported abuse nationwide than ever before. According to the Children’s Bureau, there were 618,399 substantiated reports of abuse in 2020 alone. The total number of abused children nationwide is likely much higher.
This is obviously cause for concern. Kids are already facing significant developmental complications as the pandemic keeps them from engaging with their peers. The additional trauma of abuse will almost certainly compound these developmental delays. Furthermore, higher abuse rates mean this one-two punch of lacking socialization and trauma could be significantly more widespread than typical maltreatment before the pandemic.
That’s why it’s more important than ever for parents to be aware of child abuse. Kids can suffer abuse from many people, from babysitters to family members to your spouse. They can even suffer if you’re the one facing abuse. This April, one of the most important things you can do is learn to identify the signs of child abuse and how you can protect your kids from abusers in their lives. Here’s what you need to know to keep your children safe.
Signs Your Child Is Being Abused
Abuse doesn’t always look like a child with a bruised face. In fact, most abusers take steps to hide their abuse, at least at first. Until an abuser is confident that no one will challenge their control over their victims, they often restrict their actions to cause invisible harm. They only hit children where bruises won’t be seen, or they themselves to verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse that leaves no marks.
If your kids are being abused, it might not be obvious at first glance. You need to watch out for signs such as:
- Changes in personality, such as increased aggression or sudden passivity
- Significant drops in school performance
- Nervous behavior around some or all adults
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Sudden appearance of nightmares or bedwetting
- Sudden decreases in appetite
While you should watch for all of the above, the best way to find out if your child is being abused is to talk to them. More importantly, believe what they’re saying. If your child tells you that your spouse, your own parent, or a close family friend has hurt them somehow, it’s your responsibility to believe and protect them.
Kids rarely lie about adults hurting them. If you dismiss them as liars, you remove their most valuable support: their non-abusive parent. You’ve broken their trust, and they’re less likely to tell you about things like your spouse hurting them.
Protecting Kids from Abuse During and After a Divorce
If you find out that your child’s other parent is abusing them, the best way to protect them is to get a divorce or legal separation. That’s the only way to get sole custody of your child and remove them from your spouse’s influence.
However, ending a marriage takes time. Furthermore, even after a divorce or separation, you may be obligated to let your ex-spouse receive visitation with the kids. Here’s how you can protect your children from your abusive partner during and after your split.
File for Legal Orders
In Oregon, you can file for temporary emergency custody of your kids. If you can prove your kids are in immediate danger from your spouse, the court may grant you sole custody of your kids until the divorce is finalized. This will keep them from having to live with the abusive parent during the months it takes to legally finish things.
You can also file for a restraining order under the Family Abuse Protection Act. A restraining order can institute legal penalties if your spouse attempts to contact or spend time with your kids. If you find out that your spouse has been in touch with your children, you can use the restraining order to get local law enforcement involved.
Inform Your Kid’s Teachers and Family
You can’t be expected to protect your kids effectively without help. Whether or not you successfully get court orders against your spouse, you should talk to the other adults in your children’s lives. Teachers and other family members can pay extra attention to them and watch for further signs of abuse. They can also report your spouse if they attempt to violate the terms of any court orders against them.
Reach Out to Social Services
You should also start a record with Social Services regarding your children. Oregon’s Social Services department is there to protect kids. While they may not immediately take action against your spouse, it’s vital to start a history of abuse reports against your spouse. As your split is finalized, the testimony of your children’s social worker and the length of the case file will be invaluable in helping you get sole custody.
Talk to Your Child Regularly
Finally, always make sure your child knows they can talk to you. Have conversations about school, their hobbies, friends, and anything else they care about. The more often you talk to your kid, the more trust you build with them, and the more likely they are to come to you if the abuse continues. That gives you a better chance of collecting proof of your spouse’s behavior and getting legal protection for your children.
Work With an Experienced Divorce Lawyer to Protect Your Kids from Abusive Parents
It’s never easy finding out that your spouse is hurting your kids. If you’ve decided to take legal action to leave your partner and protect your children, you’re doing something difficult and brave. Make sure your efforts aren’t wasted by working with a qualified family court lawyer. They can help you organize your case and get your children away from their abusers as quickly as possible.