Abuse takes many forms, but healing is possible

By Amy Turner
Does the number 5,142 mean anything to you? What about 4,367? According to a report from the New York Times, As of December 2015, there were 5,142 children in the Mississippi foster care system. There were another 4,367 children being monitored but not yet placed in the system. For the Mississippi Department of Family and Children Services to be involved, some type of abuse or neglect has been reported or has occurred.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Much of the staff at Catholic Charities of Jackson are dedicated to both preventing further abuse and healing the hurts of past abuse all year round, but we welcome the opportunity to raise awareness of this pressing issue in our community. Many people think of abuse as just physical, but there are many forms including:
Physical – physical harm or injury to a child that is non-accidental. This can include kicking, punching, biting, beating, etc.
Sexual – when a parent or other person in charge sexually molests or uses a child for sexual purposes or knowingly fails to protect a child from sexual abuse or sexual exploitation
Emotional – emotional or mental injury to a child. This can include calling names, withholding affection, exposing a child to violence, belittling or humiliating the child.
Neglect – caregiver does not provide for a child’s physical, developmental, medical, emotional or psychological needs
The emotional effect on children who have been abused or neglected can last a lifetime. Even when the physical wounds have healed, the internal and external traumatic scars remain. These scars can damage a person’s sense of self, inhibit the regulation of their emotions, impact the ability to have trusting and healthy relationships, and impact the ability to function in home, work or school environments. In some cases, victims of abuse are not able to work and can become dependent on social services for care. Sometimes they become abusers themselves and perpetuate the cycle into a new generation.
This does not have to be the case. With proper treatment and support, victims can become survivors and can contribute to society. They can stop the cycle and help our entire community be stronger and safer.
Child abuse and neglect occurs in all types of families, regardless of race, ethnicity or socio-economic status. However, children who witness domestic violence, who live with an alcoholic or addict, or are being parented by a caregiver with untreated mental illness can be at an increased risk of abuse. Also, abuse risks are increased by caregivers with a lack of parenting skills, a lack of support from family, friends or community or increased financial stress in their lives.
If you suspect child abuse, call 1-800-222-8000. You can do this anonymously. Be specific and give as many details as you can. It is not your responsibility to investigate, but it is your responsibility to report.  You may not know the results of the investigation, but if you continue to suspect abuse, continue to report. You may not feel it is your place to get involved, but remember, the consequences of NOT reporting could be a detriment to a child’s safety or even life threatening.
Once abuse is reported, there are things we can do to help a child heal. Catholic Charities provides an array of services to assist children and their families who have been affected by abuse and neglect.
Programs include intensive counseling for children and their families through Hope Haven Home Based, Hope Haven Residential, and Solomon Counseling Center. The Therapeutic Foster Care Program and Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program provide services to children in a foster or group home setting. Domestic Violence Services and Alcohol and Drug Services are available as well.
We offer many of our services for free or on a sliding scale to make them affordable for working families. For more information or to support the work of Catholic Charities, visit our website, www.catholiccharitiesjackson.org.
(Amy Turner, LMSW, is the Director of Children’s Services for Catholic Charities of Jackson).