International Day on Prevention of Child Abuse

The Women's World Summit Foundation, an NGO coalition of women and children organizations, launched in 2001 an international coalition to call attention and mark the World Day with events and activities to mobilize and educate governments and societies to take action to prevent child abuse. APA, through the International Office, has joined the coalition and has also marked the day, November 19, as the International Day for Prevention of Child Abuse. APA developed the following Fact Sheet with information on violence against children in the US and about how to identify and prevent child abuse. The Fact Sheet also has an outline of the Association's contributions to child abuse prevention.

Violence Against Children in the US

  • In 2004, an estimated 3 million children were alleged to have been victims of physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, and death. After investigations, almost 900,000 of these victims were found to have been victims of child maltreatment.
  • In the USA, Children are more likely to die from violence and neglect than from accidents. Child violence permanently disables 18,000 children and youth every year and seriously injures 565,000.
  • Violence and neglect against children kills more than 3 children every day in America. Most of the children who die are younger than six years of age. Of these fatalities, 85 percent were under the age of six; 44 percent of the children were under the age of one.
  • Almost 80 percent of the perpetrators are parents.

What is child maltreatment?

It is an adult's action or failure to take action that results in the physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and medical neglect of a child or presents a risk to seriously harm a child.

Emotional abuse is one of the most common and harmful forms of child maltreatment and can have a lifelong impact -- affecting children's ability to feel safe and loved, the way they relate to others, and their self-esteem. It includes:

  • Making fun of a child

  • Name calling

  • Always finding fault

  • Using harsh words to criticize behaviors

  • Using fear to control behavior

Why Child Maltreatment Happens

There are many reasons and factors that make adults maltreat children. Parents can be totally unaware of the magnitude of force they use while striking a child. Another reason is the lack of knowledge about alternative positive discipline methods resulting in frequent use of inappropriate and harsh discipline such as physical punishment. Contributing factors of child abuse include:

  • The parent was abused as a child and is continuing the cycle
  • Lack of parenting skills
  • Unrealistic expectations about children's behavior and capabilities
  • Difficulty to control and manage anger feelings and stress
  • Frequent family crises
  • Drug or alcohol abuse

We know that parents want the best for their children and don't want to hurt them. But some end up maltreating their children out of frustration due to a lack of knowledge about what children are capable of doing and understanding at different ages; also some lack skills and strategies to discipline and respond to the children's difficult behaviors in age appropriate ways.

To stop the abuse and prevent its consequences on children's lives, families need to become aware of how they're treating their children. They also need to know how damaging their behavior is and the consequences for their children. Children who are exposed to violence early in life are more likely to become abusers later, have health problems, be depressed, have low self esteem, and fail in school. Parents who maltreat their children may need help from an outside source, such as a parenting education program, a psychologist or some other type of mental health counselor or a member of the clergy.

Prevention of Child Maltreatment

Decades of research have shown that effective parenting is the most powerful way to prevent behavior problems in the adolescence years (Kumpfer & Alvarado, AP, 2003). We also know that the early years are a critical period in a child's life when children learn basic interpersonal skills, problem-solving, and self-control. It is a good time for families to learn how to teach children positive behavior and the skills needed to get along with others. Teach children to control and express anger and to resolve conflicts in non violent ways. Children learn by imitation and observation and one of the primary ways of teaching young children is for adults to teach by example. Thus, adults need to learn how to control and express their own anger in nonviolent ways so their actions show young children how to behave.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has a long-standing commitment to prevention of violence against children. The major initiatives include policy statements and resolutions on bullying, psychological issues related to child abuse and neglect, on corporal punishment, and on the UN convention on the rights of the child. In the public policy arena, APA has actively worked with members of Congress to help secure funding increases for programs, research, training, and data collection on child abuse and neglect.

A major initiative is the ACT-Adults and Children Together- Against Violence, a national program focusing on the early years and on the important role of adults and communities in prevention. The purpose is to raise awareness and educate families and communities to create early environments that protect children from violence. The program achieves its goals through a public education campaign and by training professionals and establishing partnerships with their community-based organizations to take ACT messages and materials to communities.