The National Clearinghouse on Family Violence (Health Canada) Child Abuse and Neglect Fact Sheet explains that child abuse occurs when a parent, guardian or caregiver mistreats or neglects a child, resulting in injury, or significant emotional or psychological harm, or serious risk of harm to the child.
Getting accurate data on the prevalence of child abuse is challenging because so many cases go unreported. A report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, estimated that, in 2010, 695,000 children were victims of child abuse and 1,560 children died as a result of abuse or neglect. A study from Canada’s Department of Justice estimated there were 135,573 child maltreatment investigations in Canada in 1998 – a rate of almost 22 investigations for every 1000 children in Canada. Child welfare workers were able to confirm that the abuse had occurred in almost half (45%) of all cases. The majority of child abuse cases stem from situations and conditions that can be preventable when community programs and systems are engaged and supportive.
Prevention Resources for Churches
Churches have an important role to play in abuse prevention – within the congregation and in the broader community.
The Christian Reformed Church has published Safe Keeping to support your church in working with young people to prevent child abuse. This two-session curriculum, written from a faith perspective, helps children and youth understand what abuse is and gives them strategies to use if they find themselves in uncomfortable or dangerous situations.
Dove’s Nest, an organization associated with the Mennonite Church in the United States, offers a number of resources to help U.S.-based churches raise awareness of child abuse, including a bulletin insert.
Dove’s Next also offers Circle of Grace, a curriculum that teaches children and youth how to identify and maintain appropriate physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual boundaries; recognize when boundary violations are about to occur; and demonstrate how to take action when boundaries are threatened or violated. This curriculum is being reviewed by the office of Safe Church Ministry, as well as several CRC churches. Ask your Safe Church representative to check it out while it's on display at the Safe Church Ministry Conference at the end of April. A faith-based curriculum like this one is valuable in that it teaches children and young adults to respect all people and encourages healthy relationships that honour God.
Little Warriors is a national charitable organization, based in Canada, focusing on the education and prevention of child sexual abuse. Little Warriors website lists seven helpful steps for effective prevention of child sexual abuse, but many of the steps are applicable to all forms of abuse.
Promoting protective factors, conditions in families and communities that research has shown to increase the health and well-being of children and families, is also an important way to prevent child abuse. Churches can promote protective factors by supporting organizations that build strong families and strong communities. Protective factors include healthy early child development, emotionally resilient parents, and concrete supports for parents such as help with food, clothing, healthcare, housing and transportation.