You Can Fill Fenway Three Times

Last year, in Massachusetts alone, 98,000 children suffered child abuse.

To put that number in perspective, as one expert pointed out recently, think of a full Fenway Park. Fenway Park full of children, half of them under six. And, do that about three times.

Or, still another way to visualize it, the Children’s Trust Fund of Massachusetts (CTF), which keeps track of things like that, says that 282 children are abused or neglected every day in Massachusetts.

Abused kids are likely to not only suffer physically and emotionally, but are likely to be future problems to society. School behavior. Detention centers. Jail. Batterers themselves.

How? The Fund says that some 80 percent of children residing in Massachusetts mental health facilities have a history of abuse, and the average inpatient care cost is $147,000 a year. More than half of the juvenile delinquents committed to the Mass Department of Youth Services come from families with confirmed reports of abuse–annual average cost, $32,060.

Abused children are four times as likely to get involved in alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, or suicide attempts than normal.

I tell you this because April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and CTF was out in force at the State House this month, asking legislators for support, and promising to increase their efforts to support parents and strengthen families in order to prevent child abuse and neglect.

They’re also an organization that knows that prevention works. If we can offer abusers support services to help them cope with their problems and face the fact that abuse is wrong, we’ll have a much stronger society.

Another organization working to erase the problem is the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC). Their statistics show that even more kids are abused in Massachusetts annually–MSPCC says103,000 or more. That’s just reported cases.

This month, they gave legislators small blue lapel ribbons, an idea started by a Virginia grandmother who had a grandson die of abuse. They want us to remember that, in Massachusetts:

· A child is reported abused or neglected every 18 minutes

· A baby is born into poverty every 43 minutes

· A baby is born to a teenage mother every hour

· A baby is born to a mother receiving late or no prenatal care every 4 hours

· A child or youth is murdered every 8 days

· A child or youth commits suicide every 13 days

There are more scary statistics, of course. But, how are we going to deal with child abuse? Personally, as well as a society?

One thing that bothers me most is seeing a child being abused in a store, parking lot, or other public place. What should you do?

The MSPCC suggests that you sympathize with the parent, saying something like "He seems to be trying your patience," or "My child used to get upset like that." This may divert the parent, and you can continue a conversation, asking a question to provide a distraction. It just might be enough for the anger to subside.

Try saying something nice about the child, how strong he is, or ask how old she is. Something, again to divert attention. You can even offer sympathy and help.

Of course, if you are seriously worried about the child’s safety, ask the store manager, or someone with authority, to become involved by saving something like, "This store is a safe haven for children. We don’t spank in here."

Or, just quietly stand guard if a child is in jeopardy or is being neglected. Stay with a child left alone in a car or grocery cart until the parent returns.

The MSPCA says you shouldn’t make a snide remark or give a dirty look. Those will only make matters worse by making the parent angrier. And, if someone else is disapproving, step in and start over with that kind remark or a question so you can defuse the situation.

Who are the abusers? Primarily, parents (80 percent of the time), followed by relatives at 11 percent, strangers at 8 percent, and acquaintances or friends, 1 percent.

It’s a sad reflection on our society that we have to have a month to commemorate child abuse. But, as Dr. Edward Bailey, chief of pediatrics at Baystate Medical Center says, "Some kids just don’t get a chance. Anything we can do to prevent child abuse is an important investment."

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