Updated: 2 days ago
Children are blessings from God (Psalm 127: 3). They are born into this world swaddled in a blanket of such innocence that it makes you feel an innate desire to protect them. Children are the most fragile, vulnerable, and impressionable beings among us, with eyes full of wonder and curiosity about the world. Everything is new to them. Everything is good. When we see a child, we see them through the lens of the future. We think about their first steps and the first day of school. We anxiously await other celebratory events as they get older, such as graduating from high school or college, getting their first job, moving into their first place, finding a life partner, or having children of their own. A child has their whole life ahead of them. Unfortunately, this is not the case for every child.
Last week, I received devastating news about a former student whose life was brutally snatched away at such a young age. I couldn't believe it. I was heartbroken. Who would harm a child? I began to wonder how long this student had endured such horror behind closed doors. How many times did they cry out, but their cries fell on deaf ears? How many times did they show the signs of abuse muffled in the form of fear, worry, anxiety, anger, academic performance, hunger, behavioral issues, and depression? Unfortunately, when children experience these things, they are often labeled instead of loved. The way we see and nurture our children reveals the condition of our hearts. When did we stop being the village for our children?
Data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System estimated that 1,840 children died from abuse or neglect in 2019. This data only reflects cases that have been reported. Most public service professionals are considered mandated reporters when it comes to the welfare of children. However, we must report incidents of suspected child abuse, whether we are mandated reporters or not. Children are not protected when adults take an "it's not my business" stance. It is our business. Your response could be a matter of life and death. Nelson Mandela stated that "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way it treats its children."
(Image: Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2019)
We cannot entrust the protection of our children to the surrogate hands of the system. One cannot protect whom they do not know, because there is no investment. Only the village can do that. The village is based on relationships. Where there is no relationship, there will be no commitment. This lack of connection causes the system to continue sending children back into the hands of those who would seek to do them harm. As long as children are considered cases instead of humans, the system will continue to be broken.
As an educator, I love a particular quote by author and former foster child John Shipp: "Every child is one caring adult away from a success story." One caring adult could make all the difference in the world. Care enough to listen to the cries of a child. Care enough to discern when a child is having a bad day and make it better. Care enough to love a child instead of labeling him or her. Care enough to report suspected child abuse when you see it.
The school system is, and should always be, a part of the village for children. After being away from school for more than a year due to the pandemic, students are even more eager to come back to school. Back-to-school season is often driven by a mad rush to buy school supplies and clothes. All parents want their children to look "Facebook and Instagram ready" on the first day. When school begins, children enter through the doors with their new clothes, hairstyles, and haircuts. However, as they arrive at the entrance of their new classroom, the “deer-in-headlights” expressions start to settle in. As they unpack their backpacks and unload all of their school supplies, you have to wonder, what are they carrying internally that they cannot unpack? We can't forget that students have been out of school for almost two years due to COVID-19. Some of them have families that have lost jobs, homes, and loved ones. We need to be prepared to welcome our students with a holistic approach to learning. We need to care for the whole child.
The proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," means that it takes the entire community as a collective body to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children. It is our business to protect our children. It is our business to provide a safe space for children to express their concerns. So, let's continue to be a village of safety for our children.
What are some of the signs of child abuse? Child abuse is when someone, whether through action or failure to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm, or risk of serious harm to a child. Here are some of the signs of child abuse (kidscenter.org):
Nervousness around adults or someone in particular
Aggression, passivity, or over-compliance
Sudden changes in personality, mood, and/or behavior
Changes in sleeping habits
Not wanting to go home or to a particular place
Changes in school performance and attendance
Unexplained bruises or injuries
Lack of personal care or hygiene
Changes in eating habits and appetite
Risk-taking behavior, including drug and alcohol use
Self-injury (e.g., cutting or burning)
Suicidal ideation or attempts
I sincerely hope that this blog post will raise awareness of child abuse and strengthen the call to action for the villages in your community. Let's work together to stop child maltreatment. Let's do our part in breaking the silence on child abuse. If you suspect or know that a child is being abused, please call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453. For more information, please visit https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/responding/reporting/how/