Ten Ways to Prevent Child Maltreatment

Volunteer your time. Get involved with other parents in your community. Help vulnerable children and their families. Start a playgroup.

Discipline your child thoughtfully. Never discipline your child when you are upset. Give yourself time to calm down. Remember that discipline is a way to teach your child. Use privileges to encourage good behavior and time-out to help your child regain control.

Examine your behavior. Abuse is not just physical. Both words and actions can inflict deep, lasting wounds. Be a nurturing parent. Use your actions to show children and other adults that conflicts can be settled without hitting or yelling.

Educate yourself and others. Simple support for children and parents can be the best way to prevent child abuse. Afterschool activities, parent education classes, mentoring programs, and respite care are some of the many ways to keep children safe from harm. Be a voice of support of these efforts in your community.

Teach children their rights. When children are taught they are special and have the right to be safe, they are less likely to think abuse is their fault and more likely to report an offender.

Support prevention programs. Too often, intervention occurs only after abuse is reported. Greater investments are necessary in programs that have been proven to stop abuse before it occurs-such as family counseling and home visits by nurses who provide assistance for newborns and their parents.

Know what child abuse is. Physical and sexual abuse clearly constitute maltreatment, but so does neglect or the failure of parents or other caregivers to provide a child with needed food, clothing and care. Children can also be emotionally abused when they are rejected, berated or continuously isolated.

Know the signs. Unexplained injuries aren't the only signs of abuse. Depression, fear of a certain adult, difficulty trusting others or making friends, sudden changes in eating or sleeping patterns, inappropriate sexual behavior, poor hygiene, secrecy and hostility often are signs of family problems and may indicate a child is being neglected or physically, sexually or emotionally abused.

Report abuse. If you witness a child being harmed or see evidence of abuse, or if a child tells you about abuse, make a report to your state's child protective services department or local police. When talking to a child about abuse, listen carefully, assure the child that he or she did the right thing by telling an adult, and affirm that he or she is not responsible for what happened.

Invest in kids. Encourage leaders in the community to support children and families. Ask employers to provide family-friendly work environments. Ask your local and national lawmakers to support legislation to better protect children and improve their lives.

Reprinted with permission from Children's Voice, Vol. 11, No. 2, March 2002. A publication of the Child Welfare League of America.