The Boom in Child Abuse

December 03, 1993

Reports of child abuse are nearly overwhelming the Carroll County Department of Social Services. The number of reports of suspected child abuse this year is 64 percent greater than the total number of cases for all of 1992. Because state law requires all valid reports of suspected child abuse to be investigated within 24 hours, the department's staff is struggling to keep up.

Whether more child abuse is occurring in Carroll today than last year or even 10 years ago is not the appropriate question. We will never know whether the increase is because people are more apt to report suspected abuse or because there is actually more of it. The reality is that as a society we seem to see too many child abuse and neglect cases.

Child abuse is a good barometer of the overall psychological health of a community. When people are under stress, they tend to act out their problems. Drinking and drug abuse increase. People become withdrawn or belligerent. Domestic violence climbs. And children often become the targets of frustrated and angry adults.

We are now also much more aware of child abuse. This heightened consciousness results in more people calling to report cases of suspected abuse. When a teacher has a child in the classroom who can't explain a bruise, possible child abuse is the first thing that comes to mind. Teachers, increasingly afraid of the consequences of not reporting their suspicions and of losing their jobs, may at times overcompensate.

While social workers can't tell whether there is more abuse today than in previous years, they quickly point out that the severity is worse. Children are not being hit harder, but the social workers say the problems where the abuse is taking place are more intractable. Some families are no longer working well together. As long as these families don't function, the number of cases of child abuse and neglect will climb.

Regardless of the reason, social workers are dealing with more cases, which means a lot more children are receiving help and protection than before. Early intervention can prevent further psychological and physical damage to these children. It may even prevent them from becoming abusers when they turn into parents because harming children to resolve problems or release frustrations is a learned behavior.

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