Child Abuse Ongoing Expense to Society

Child abuse is an expense to today’s society that bears an even bigger price tag in the future.
The problem is underscored by frequent reports of that abuse in the media coupled with additional notices that charges have been filed against adults for their actions.
Between 12 and 15 agencies in Tulsa are working together to slow the problem, according to Christine Marsh, Family & Children’s Services director of Child Abuse Services.
They are working together to help clients, having developed a communication system so each knows services rendered by the other agency.
Social workers can’t sit in their own silos and be effective, she said. This is especially true when court appearances are required. It is not possible to get people from many different agencies together at one time to provide input on just one child.
All provide critical services needed by so many people. All staff members have heavy caseloads.
The child abuse cycle needs to be broken.
Unless it is, there will be more problems with dysfunctional families, people with mental health problems adding additional stress and expense to society because of crowded prison systems.
Building strong, abuse-free families is the key as social workers try to get children reunited with parents and siblings, she said. A lot of attention is spent on the number of kids in the system. But there are many more that fall through the cracks and are not seen — sometimes until it is too late.
This is not a poverty-driven, socio economic issue, Marsh said. Sexual abuse and domestic violence knows no boundaries or racial barriers. It is seen in every part of the city.
Nearly every case involving sexual abuse involves someone the child knows and trusts, she said. These are family members, mom’s boy friend, a coach or someone who has befriended and started a relationship with a child. Adults should be especially cautious when there is a significant age difference and an older child takes an unusually strong interest in a younger child. Parents need to wonder why that interest exists. It is impossible to know what another individual is thinking with so much pornography available, especially on the Internet.
Single parents, because of economic situations, will leave children with a neighbor when they go to work. Those can be bad situations because that neighbor might be involved in drugs or have been convicted of child molestation.
Physical abuse within families often is the result of parents out of control, Marsh continued. Too often, these individuals do not have effective parenting skills. A deeper investigation shows they were raised in homes where arm-twisting and whippings were the norm. Many a parent has said ‘‘that was the way they were raised and there is nothing wrong with me.’’
It is difficult for some parents not to get out of control and take punitive action against children, she said. That is where it is important to provide help to parents, changing that behavior and breaking the child abuse chain.
Even more tragic is when children are found in homes where adults have had parties where both drugs and alcohol are involved.
Marsh recalled an incident when a child said she was passing out drinks containing meth and drugs to adults, including her mother. It is no wonder that some children are abusing drugs at a young age.
‘‘The majority of the children we see for treatment are between four and eight years old,’’ Marsh continued. But there have been instances where children two years old have been brought in for help. This is what the public is not aware of. This is not just in north Tulsa, west Tulsa or Hispanic families.
When there are concerns for children, people need to seek help, starting early so if there is a problem treatment an begin. Too often, incidents have been ongoing for years and real psychological damage has been done.
Marsh paused for a moment, then wondered aloud how many parents really talk with their children.
Start dialogues with children when they are young, three to five-years old, she said. Let them know that they can talk with mom and dad. Teach them — at their age level — they have someone they can go to, who will really listen. Make it part of the family routine where these conversations will be held several times a week.
Give the child a place to talk, she emphasized. Give them undivided attention, not when driving to a basketball game or other activity. Find out what is going on in school, what is happening in the classroom.
Tell them that there are places on their body where it is not OK to touch, that they can say they don’t like something — and if that happens to let their parents know.
One F&CS program is designed to teach parents how to ask questions. Too often, kids don’t want to talk to parents because they don’t know how to listen.
Listening becomes critical when a child tells parents about something that has happened, Marsh said. Too many go into the denial mode when a child tells about an incident that either happened to them or someone else. It is at that time the incident should be reported to the proper authorities.
It’s stressful to open a conversation with a child and the last thing a parent wants to find out is the child has brought home a bad progress report. Yet, when the child knows they can talk without fear from the adult, they will respond more quickly when they face difficult situations.
Listening is what most adults don’t do well, Marsh continued. Sometimes it is necessary to count to 10 before saying anything. Other times the response might be to thank the child for sharing, but the parent really needs to think about what they have just been told.
‘‘Take 15 or 20 minutes as often as possible, at least every week or so to listen to your child,’’ Marsh suggested. ‘‘Make it just between you and your child. Talk about anything. It could be about chores, feeding the dog, maybe why the child didn’t like the way something was handled.’’
These conversations eventually will lead to a dialogue that can bridge communications gaps that can prevent future problems, she said. The hard part is letting the kids take charge.

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