Michelle Novotny, Psy.D., Clinical Training Director & Consulting Psychologist, Denver Children’s Home
In Colorado in 2014, nearly 10,000 children were confirmed victims of abuse or neglect—approximately eight out of every 1,000 Colorado children.* Every case is unique, but many of these children were physically and sexually abused, denied access to school, told over and over again that they were worthless and unlovable or worse. Child abuse and neglect leave lasting scars both inside and out. Abused and neglected kids often show a lack of trust and relationship difficulties, feelings of being damaged or worthless, and often have trouble regulating emotions and expressing them safely.
Parents and primary caregivers are the first line of defense in preventing child abuse and neglect. However, every citizen plays a key role in protecting our children. Research demonstrates that support from family, friends, neighbors, and communities increases parents’ abilities to provide basic resources such as food, clothing, safe housing, and health care to better protect children.
Prevention programs aimed at parental support and education along with crisis centers are some of the most effective for preventing abuse. These programs include The Kempe Center, Denver Center for Child Advocacy, Circle of Parents, Stop It Now, and our own Family Resource Center. These programs all focus on developing positive parenting skills and awareness and some, like our Family Resource Center, also work with families to assess needs and offer access to services like food pantries, transportation vouchers, help with utilities and more.
Additionally, parents and individual citizens are encouraged to be active community members. Knowing your neighbors and reaching out to families under stress helps build safe environments for growing children.
As community members it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect. Abuse can take many forms including physical, emotional, sexual, and neglect. Physical abuse signs include unexplained bites, burns, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes. Children may report abuse or you may notice that they seem afraid of adults. Children experiencing emotional abuse often show extreme variances in behavior. They may assume the role of parent or be extremely childish for their age. The children may also be delayed in emotional development. Signs of sexual abuse include frequent nightmares or bedwetting. The child may have an unusual understanding of sexual behavior for their developmental age and they may act out in a sexualized way. Children experiencing neglect may seem hungry all the time or they may hoard or steal food. They may also seem unkempt in appearance or tired all the time. You may also see them wandering at times that they should be home or in school.
If you have concerns about any child, you can always make a report. It is important to know that you do not have to have proof of the abuse to make a report. The responsible agencies will investigate and determine what is in the best interest of the child. To make a report you can call 1-844-CO-4-KIDS. This number works for all of Colorado and is available 24 hours a day.
Child abuse is an issue that affects all of us. By increasing our awareness and supporting parents, caregivers, and families in our community, we can make a difference in the lives of Colorado’s children.
*CO Dept. of Human Services
About the Author:
In addition to her work at Denver Children’s Home, Dr. Novotny also teaches a seminar at University of Denver School of Professional Psychology, maintains a private practice, and is a proud mom of three daughters and proud grandma of one grandson.