April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

Child Abuse impacts ALL of us either personally or by being close to someone with this trauma. It is our hope that with the sharing of knowledge, we can help support children and adults who have experienced child abuse and trauma by understanding and knowing the truth and how to help.

To increase awareness, let’s start at the top: What is child abuse?

While Federal legislation sets minimum standards for individual states, the states themselves are ultimately responsible for defining child maltreatment in their State law. Washington state defines abuse and neglect in RCW 26.44.020 as “injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child by any person under circumstances which indicate that the child's health, welfare, and safety is harmed”. Other states of similar laws.

You may wonder, what exactly does that mean? For example, the law may define the difference between reasonable and unreasonable uses of force used during physical discipline as outlined in RCW 9A.16.100, yet is a child’s experience of such discipline as cut and dry? Perhaps you suspect abuse or neglect is happening to someone you know and are unsure if it rises to a reportable standard. Children are a vulnerable population and do not have the agency to advocate for the themselves. If you suspect child abuse or neglect, please call WA state’s 24/7 hotline: 1-866-ENDHARM (363-4276) or call your local Child Protective Services. For more information on how to recognize signs and symptoms, who are mandated reporters, and what are potential outcomes from reporting, please refer to the Washington state attorney general’s office for a comprehensive overview.

Reporting suspected neglect or abuse may result in the short-term goal of decreasing or stopping child maltreatment. In the interest of better understanding long-term effects of adverse childhood experiences such as abuse and neglect, studies were conducted, risks were uncovered, and preventative and protective measures uncovered, and treatments developed. The largest of these studies investigated “the connections between chronic stress caused by early adversity and long-term health” (Center for Youth Wellness, 2017) and was conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente in the mid 1990s, known as the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. The ACE study measured abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction in these ten subcategories: Abuse- Physical, Emotional, and Sexual; Neglect- Physical and Emotional; Household Dysfunction- Mental Illness, Divorce, Substance Abuse, Mother Mistreatment, and Incarcerated Relative. It was determined that only one of these experiences resulted in developmental impact of the child and family system long term.

The ACEs questionnaire (Burke Harris, 2014, Harvard University, 2019,Center for Youth Wellness, 2017) was administered to over 17,000 adults and was comprised of ten yes/no questions evaluating the ten categories above; each yes equated to one point on their ACE score. The scores were then correlated against health outcomes. The key findings of this and subsequent studies using the original ACEs data were, first, that the ACEs are very common, even across social classes; 67% of participants, or two thirds of the population, reported at least one ACE and 13%, or one in eight people, reported four ACEs or more (Burke Harris, 2014; Harvard University, 2019; Center for Youth Wellness, 2017). Second, they found that the higher the ACE score, the higher the risk for negative health outcomes. Although these correlates are alarming and suggest “the more ACEs experienced an