Child Abuse and Why Youth Run Away
Whenever one of our frontline team members (liners) talks to a youth, one of the standard questions they ask is “Why did you leave home?” or “What makes you call us today?”
In 2011, NRS conducted a longitudinal study from data collected over 15 years by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The nationally representative sample of over 15,000 adolescents followed them into adulthood with four longitudinal interview points. NRS examined the data related to the participants experiencing runaway episodes. In this study, it was also found that youth that experience abuse (verbal, physical and sexual) had higher rates of running away.
Let’s back up a second and define child abuse.
According to Childhelp, it is “when a parent or caregiver, whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm or risk of serious harm to a child. There are many forms of child maltreatment, including:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
According to the National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence, “child abuse affects all segments of society and has no socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic or religious boundaries.” It can happen anywhere and often, the child knows their abuser (parent, caregiver, a family friend, other relative or neighbor).
Physical abuse can include:
- Or any other action that injures a child.
It can result in bruises, blisters, internal injuries, broken bones, emotional and psychological harm, brain damage or death.
Emotional abuse can include:
- Verbally insulting
- Yelling or threatening
- Isolating or withholding love
- When a child witnesses violence in the home.
Signs of this may be extreme behavioral changes, attempted suicide or lack of emotional attachment to a parent.
Sexual abuse involves:
- Any touching or non-touching contact with a child
- Sexual exploitation including rape, incest, pornography or internet crimes.
Signs of sexual abuse include pain, difficulty walking or sitting, bedwetting, nightmares, sexual knowledge beyond what is normal for a child’s age.
Neglect is the failure to provide for a child’s safety or basic physical, emotional, medical or educational needs. Signs of neglect may include poor hygiene, lack of medical or dental care, malnutrition or when a child says that there is nobody at home to care for them.
There are also other potential signs that a child is being abused and these can include:
- Nervousness around adults
- Reluctance to go home
- Complaints of nightmares or not sleeping well
- Running away
- Delays in physical or emotional development
- Lack of supervision at a young age
Some of the signs of abuse that a parent or caregiver is abusing a child are:
- They can’t explain an injury or explain it in a way that makes sense
- Displays aggression to the child
- Indicates that the child is a liar or untrustworthy
- Sees the child as a burden or worthless
- Delays medical care
- Keeps child from school
- Has a history of violence
Also according to the Childhelp website:
Over 3.6 million referrals are made every year to child protection agencies that involve more than 6.6 million children.
A child abuse report is made every 10 seconds in the United States.
An average of 4 to 7 children is lost every day to child abuse and neglect making us one of the worst among industrialized nations.
Which means that many of us know a child experiencing child abuse and maltreatment.
So what can we do in those situations? Well, one thing is to call Child Protective Services and file a report with them. Calling to file a report can seem nerve-wracking and you may not know if it is necessary.
Unfortunately, we’ve all heard bad things about child protective services but they really are a good place to start. When calling, the person that answers will listen to your report and gather necessary information such as the child’s name, age, and address; the nature of the suspected abuse; the names of the suspected perpetrators and their relationships to the child along with any other information you feel could be helpful.
They may ask you questions for follow up information or to clarify information you have provided them. Remember, you’re both doing this in the interest of the child and their safety.
But what are some other ways to help? The Center for the Study of Social Policy spent two years investigating how to keep children safe by reviewing research in the field of child abuse along with interviewing hundreds of experts, practitioners, and parents.
From all of this, they found 6 Protective Factors to help build strong families and protect children. These are parental resilience, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete supports in times of need, the social and emotional competence of children and the parent-child relationship.
If you see a child in public that is a victim of abuse, Prevent Child Abuse America has tips on how to approach the situation.
- Start a conversation with the adult to direct attention away from the child. Some examples of what to say are, “My child sometimes gets upset like that, too,” or “Children can really wear you out sometimes. Is there anything I can do to help?”
- You can also divert the child’s attention if they are misbehaving by talking to them, look for an opportunity to praise the parent or child.
- If you feel that the child is in immediate danger, call the police!
- And remember, negative looks or remarks may cause the parent/caregiver to become more stressed or upset which could be worse for the child.
Child abuse doesn’t only affect the victim when they are young.
It can have long-lasting effects into adulthood. From 1995-1997, Kaiser Permanente along with the CDC performed the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study; the ACE study is one of the largest and most comprehensive studies of child abuse and health/well-being later in life.
It consisted of over 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization members in Southern California that received a physical exam also completing a confidential survey regarding their childhood experiences and current health and behaviors. The questions were about abuse, household challenges such as household substance abuse, violence in the home, mental illness, divorce or criminal household member.
Almost two-thirds of participants report experiencing at least one ACE and more than one in five experience three or more.
As the number of ACEs experienced, the participant had a higher risk for things such as depression, alcoholism, smoking, suicide attempts, STI’s, illicit drug use, and adolescent pregnancy, just to name a few.
It takes a village and we all need to make sure that children are safe and receiving the necessary love to grow. Child abuse doesn’t happen in a bubble and if we all do our part, we can work to reduce or, hopefully, eliminate child abuse or maltreatment.
You can always call us at the National Runaway Safeline for additional resources or if you would like help filing a report with child protective services.