An op-ed by Rosie Allen Ryan, President and CEO, Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina
In the midst of media and public outrage about the Penn State scandal alleging child sexual abuse over a span of many years, it is a reminder that all adults have a role in ensuring that all children have the safe, nurturing environments they need to thrive. Adults must be involved in helping protect children in situations where children's well-being is or may be at risk.
Children’s healthy development requires positive, supportive environments free of what experts call toxic stress. Child maltreatment overwhelms children with powerlessness and fear. Without a safe support system to help them address their feelings, their brains produce harmful chemicals in excess quantities. This toxic stress reaction damages their developing brains and bodies. If nothing is done to intervene, these children are more likely to engage in risky social behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, and criminal activity at an early age. They are also at higher risk for long-term health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and heart disease.
That’s why it is critical for you to call your local department of social services and law enforcement when you suspect child maltreatment. North Carolina law requires all adults to report suspected child maltreatment. You do not need proof of abuse or neglect to make a report, only reasonable cause to suspect it. You also do not need anyone’s permission or approval. You can report anonymously.
Not only is it our legal obligation in North Carolina to report suspected child maltreatment, it is our moral obligation as well. The future of our state relies on our ability to ensure our children have the stable, supportive environments they need to become successful adults.
Furthermore, child maltreatment does not come without a cost. Child abuse and neglect cost the U.S. $104 billion annually. Reporting abuse as soon as you become suspicious ensures children receive the support and treatment they need in a timely manner. The earlier we intervene, the better the outcomes for children.
It is also important for parents to recognize the signs of abuse, and take an active role in their children’s lives. About 90% of sexual abuse cases involve a person close and known to the child. Parents should let their children know they are available to talk if their children feel uncomfortable around another adult or about anything that is bothering them.
If you are suspicious of something that is happening between a child and an adult, call the department of social services in the county where the child lives. Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina provides links to all county departments of social services on our website (www.preventchildabusenc.org). We also provide information to help you recognize and responding to abuse when you see it. We are the only statewide organization dedicated to the prevention of abuse and neglect, and are committed to decreasing factors that put children at risk for abuse and increasing factors that encourage children to thrive.
By working together we have a chance to make a meaningful impact in the lives of all children. I invite you to visit our website and learn more about what you can do to ensure all children thrive. Together we can help North Carolina’s future parents, workers, and leaders grow up in supportive communities that foster their healthy development.