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Child Abuse Prevention: Recognizing the Signs and Reporting Them

LACASA and Childhelp Michigan are promoting April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Better safe than sorry is the old adage that Ann Marie Lesniak, Childhelp Michigan program director, says everyone should adhere to.

Child abuse prevention begins with spotting the warning signs and taking the initiative to report - even a gut feeling - to the Department of Human Services.

This could mean making a report about strange behavior, bruises on a child or even a lack of parental supervision.

"Our job as a concerned adult is to notify the Department of Human Services and then they do an investigation," Lesniak said. "Then they can decide whether it's truly a case of child abuse or neglect."

Lesniak used , the 4-year-old boy from Argentine Township who was beaten to death by his mother's boyfriend in April of 2010, as an example of what happens when people ignore signs of abuse.

"In my opinion, nobody stuck up for Dominick," she said. "That horrible weekend - and when you look at the abuse he suffered, one report stated his teeth had been pulled out by the abuser. That child had to have been screaming and crying. The neighbors heard and nobody said 'hey, this isn't right.' I think sometimes we don't want to get involved or get anybody in trouble, but realistically, it's in the best interest of the child."

There is currently an initiative underway called Dominick’s Law, which was proposed by Dominick's grandfather, Rick Calhoun, to create a good Samaritan law making it mandatory to report child abuse.

"It's a way to make people more accountable for each other," Lesniak said.

Dominick's family, Dominick's Law and Childhelp Michigan are teaming up for a 5K run/walk event called Run the Course for Dominick Calhoun, which will be held Saturday at Kensington Metropark in Milford. All funds will go to benefit Childhelp Michigan's Mentoring Program.

Lesniak said the event is more about promoting child abuse prevention and awareness than about raising money, as they are expecting to raise just enough money to break even.

Lesniak said she hopes Run the Course for Dominick Calhoun becomes an annual event.

Child abuse and neglect cases are on the rise

Child abuse and neglect in Michigan has jumped 34 percent over the past decade, from 26,844 confirmed cases in 2000 to 32,504 confirmed cases in 2010, according to the Michigan League for Human Services.

Deanna Norris, director of the Livingston County Child Abuse Prevention (CAP) Council - a program of LACASA, said she believes the economy plays a large part in the rise in cases over the last 10 years.

"The economic hardship that so many people are facing really puts a strain on families, Norris said. "I just think people are under a tremendous amount of stress."

Confirmed child abuse/neglect victims per county

Year Genesee Livingston Oakland Washtenaw 2000 2,332 68 1,326 522 2010 2,284 302 1,726 616 Rank 56 5 3 9

*Each county is ranked out of 83 Michigan counties, with 1 being the best

The warning signs

Norris said there are a number of signs and symptoms that are important to recognize, among them being suddent changes in behavior.

"The first thing we can do is really just be watchful and aware of what's going on around us," Norris said. "Pay attention to the children that are in our lives, so we are noticing when something may change with a child or if they are behaving differently. Also, talking to the people in your neighborhood about keeping an eye out on each other's kids, watching each other's kids, just easing the burden of parenting is a great idea."

Signs of physical abuse include

  • Unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones or black eyes
  • Fading bruises or other marks after an absence from school
  • Shrinking at the approach of adults
  • Protesting or crying when it's time to go home

Signs of neglect in children include

  • Frequent absences from school
  • Begging or stealing food or money
  • Lacking needed medical or dental care, immunizations or glasses
  • Consistently dirty and has severe body odor
  • Lacking sufficient clothing for the weather

Signs of sexual abuse in children include

  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Suddenly refuses to change for gym or participate in physical activities
  • Nightmares or bed-wetting
  • Bizarre, sophisticated or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior
  • Running away

Signs of emotional maltreatment in children include

  • Delayed physical or emotional development
  • Extremes in behavior, such as overly compliant or demanding, extreme passivity or aggression
  • Inappropriately adult or infantile
  • Attempted suicide

Warning signs of abuse in parents or other adult caregivers include

  • Describing the child as evil or in some other negative way
  • A history of abuse as a child
  • Abusing alcohol or other drugs
  • Unduly protective of the child or severely limiting the child's contact with other children, especially the opposite sex
  • Constantly blaming, belittling or berating the child

If you would like to report a situation of potential child abuse or neglect, please call 855-444-3911. If a child is in immediate danger, dial 911.

*Editor's Note: The years in the table of confirmed child abuse cases have been corrected.

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