FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Child Abuse Awareness Month is a time to reflect on a topic that makes us feel a bit uncomfortable. Bring up child abuse as a topic of conversation, and watch folks make a "bee-line" dash for the exit. As pervasive as child abuse is in our society, people just do not like to talk about it.

For many, talking about child abuse brings back personal memories or evokes strong feelings and emotions long forgotten. For others, the thought of a suffering child causes sadness, anger and even disgust. However, regardless of how it makes you feel, child abuse occurs in every community, and at an alarming rate.

Research shows that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthdays. According to Child Help, in 2007, approximately 5.8 million children in the United States were involved in an estimated 3.2 million child abuse reports and allegations. Child Help calls child abuse and neglect "a hidden epidemic." Perhaps one of the reasons it remains hidden is that we are not talking about it enough.

According to North Carolina General Statute 7B-301, anyone who suspects child abuse and neglect has a duty to report to the appropriate authorities. All that is needed to make a child abuse report is suspicion. You do not have to investigate, ask your neighbor, priest, or doctor. If you are concerned enough about a child's welfare to ask someone else whether or not their situation constitutes abuse, then you already have sufficient grounds to make a report.

Child protective agencies allow reporters to remain anonymous, if desired. North Carolina law stipulates that anyone who makes a child abuse report in good faith, is immune from civil or criminal liability. Even if you give your name to the CPS intake worker the law prohibits the investigating social worker from disclosing your identity to the alleged offender.

Child Abuse Awareness Month is also about prevention. Acknowledging the existence and extent of child abuse, having open and honest discussions and a willingness to intervene, are all strong preventative steps. Being alert for signs of child abuse where we live, and having knowledge of community resources are also important steps in prevention.

While it is clear that child abuse is a community problem that is not going away anytime soon, there are a number of educational programs in the community designed to raise awareness and educate the public. There are vast amounts of information on the internet dealing with child abuse prevention.

The Fort Bragg Family Advocacy Program's primary mission is child abuse prevention. FAP offers a variety of psycho-educational programs, including parenting classes for children of all ages, couples communication and the New Parent Support Program. Research shows that a father's presence in his child's life can prevent child abuse, neglect, and a host of other social problems.

FAP recognizes the uniquely important role a father plays in the life of a child. Therefore, NPSP offers classes geared towards new and expecting dads and works to encourage their involvement in every step of the child-rearing process.

It takes commitment and courage to advocate for children and it sometimes can mean going outside our respective "comfort zones." It may be as simple as offering a helping hand or words of encouragement to a stressed out mom at the commissary. In some instances, a call to the local Department of Social Services child abuse hotline may be necessary. Educating ourselves and making a commitment to preventing child abuse places us in the best position to do something about it. People who are committed to child abuse prevention rescue children every day from abusive situations and in some cases save lives.

If you, or someone you know, would like to learn more about preventing child abuse, please call the Family Advocacy Program at 396-5521. The Cumberland County Child Abuse Hotline number is 677-2450.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16