Suspected child abuse cases reported to Tauranga’s Child Youth and Family office have almost doubled over the last two years.
More than 4000 suspected child abuse cases were reported to the office in the last 12 months with 10 per cent of those referred from Tauranga Hospital.
According to the Bay of Plenty District Health Board the hospital referred 450 cases to CYFs in the last 12 months, an increase from 274 in 2010 and 415 in 2011.
On average 10 of these children are so badly beaten or neglected they are admitted into hospital for treatment each year.
Tauranga Hospital community paediatrician Dr David Jones says the signs of child abuse are many and varied.
“They depend on the type of abuse that is occurring. At the extreme end of the scale, children can die as a result of their injuries or present in a life threatening condition.
“They may present deeply unconscious with seizures from brain swelling or bleeding inside the skull. They may have multiple fractures involving limbs, skulls and ribs.”
David says children may present with internal bleeding and organ damage.
“Sometime children present with poor weight gain and show signs of malnutrition. They may have bad skin infections and infestations like lice and scabies, as well as other untreated medical conditions.”
People who suspect a child is being abused are advised to watch their behaviour.
David says children often communicate through behaviour.
“Where a child is being abused or neglected there may be behavioural signs of this. They may be withdrawn, irritable, aggressive, and excessively clingy or have difficulty controlling their emotions.
“They may be indiscriminate in their affection with others. Some children develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Of course, a child’s behaviour can result from a wide variety of different reasons.”
Changing the cycle of child abuse needs to start with the community and David says children develop their own personalities from an early age.
He says some are easy going and others are much more challenging.
“Not all children respond to the same parenting strategies. Fortunately there are some excellent parenting programmes specifically designed to support parents.”
Below are some practical suggestions from David to try and break the cycle of child abuse.
1) Be a nurturing parent. All children need to know is that they are special, loved and capable of following their dreams.
2) Creative positive family/whanau time with your children and do this regularly.
3) Help a friend, neighbour or relative. Being a parent can be tough. Having a helping hand and knowing that someone cares can make all the difference.
4) Help yourself. When the problems of everyday life pile up, take time out. Don’t take it out on your child.
5) Try and make some quality parent time. Your relationship with your partner is important to your children.
6) It can be hard listening to your baby cry. Learn what do to if your baby won’t stop crying. Never ever shake a baby – shaking can result in severe injury or death.
7) Enrol in a parent programme. Parenting doesn’t come with a manual or a licence, yet it is one of the most important responsibilities in life. We can all learn something new.
8) Get involved. Lobby local community leaders and agencies to develop the services you need.
9) Limit screen time. Too much TV, violent films and programmes are bad for children.
10) Report suspected abuse or neglect to CYF. Don’t turn a blind eye or assume someone else will act. You could be that child’s only hope.