Safe Keeping

April 22-28, 2004
Safe Keeping
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

Since 1983, a presidential proclamation has designated April as Child Abuse Prevention Month. Observing Child Abuse Prevention Month allows people from across the country to join forces to raise awareness of child abuse and help prevent this tragedy. Annually, approximately one million children are abused and/or neglected in the U.S. And these are only the reported incidents –– many more are unreported and undetected, often because children are afraid to speak up. Abuse can fall under one or more of the four headings: physical abuse, child neglect, sexual abuse and emotional abuse. Most child abuse occurs within the home, involving a person or persons that a child knows.

Jennifer Parmalee serves as executive director of the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Site. The site, which is located at 509 West Onondaga St. in Syracuse, is a child-friendly and safe place which assists with prevention, investigation, prosecution and treatment of local child abuse cases. Its mission is to provide a comfortable, private and child-friendly setting for the support of child advocacy efforts in the community. Parmalee said there is often no one telltale sign to determine if a child is being abused.

“Every child responds differently,” said Parmalee. She pointed out some signs which might indicate abuse in children, including behavior change, nightmares and changes in behavior and performance at school. “These signs show emotional upheaval,” she said. “Whenever this occurs, parents need to talk to their children.” Child abuse is not a comfortable subject to discuss, but the discussion is necessary. Nationally, at least three children die each day as a result of physical abuse or neglect. “If parents suspect something is wrong with their children, they should not avoid the issue,” Parmalee said. “Although it can be difficult for them to talk about, just imagine what the children who have been abused are going through. The children must be put first.”

Those who survive suffer emotional trauma long after the bruises have healed. Abused children are more likely to perform poorly in school, commit crimes, use drugs and experience mental health problems. The abuse also affects relationships, happiness and success. “Child abuse sets into motion a serious chain of consequences for children,” said Parmalee. Child abuse has become a major issue, but there are ways to help eradicate the problem. The general public can get involved by supporting programs that support child abuse prevention through volunteering and/or donations. Some organizations are also hosting special events for Child Abuse Awareness Month to increase public involvement. The McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Site participated in several events in the month of April, including a Crime Victims Vigil and a Clothesline Project Closing Tribute, which raised community awareness of sexual abuse and assault. The McMahon/Ryan Site will hold an open house on Thursday, April 29, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at 509 West Onondaga St. For more information, call (315) 701-2985, or visit www.mcmahonryan.org

Another valuable community resource is available through the Alliance program of Catholic Charities of Onondaga County. The program is considered a model for child abuse prevention across the nation. It pioneered the use of multidisciplinary teams to treat families where child abuse occurs and works with more than 80 different agencies within the community to prevent child abuse. For more information, contact Catholic Charities at (315) 424-1800. Parmalee emphasized that child abuse prevention begins at home. Activities that encourage open communication and safe emotional connection are key to building healthy relationships and preventing child abuse and neglect. “The most important thing parents can do is to talk and listen to their children,” Parmalee said. “They must critically consider if everything is okay with their children at all times.”

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