Here’s a problem that can happen in any neighborhood: a kid seems to be pretty much on his own. He hangs around your house a lot, seems unkempt and under-nourished. Maybe he doesn’t seem to have a curfew and no one appears to be looking out for him. Maybe he’s even bruised or injured in ways that don’t seem the result of just ordinary scrapes and bumps.
You think he might need some help. What should you do?
Well, a child like this might need some help. A large-scale study into Adverse Childhood Experiences, conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that abusive and neglectful experiences before age 18 are associated with a whole host of bad things in later life. These are not the sort of adverse experiences that make the news. These are fairly commonplace experiences, like being yelled at frequently, being hit or kicked, being witness to domestic violence, and being raised in a family affected by separation, divorce, alcoholism, or incarceration. The study’s authors found that most people could point to at least one adverse experience in their early lives and many could point to more. The thing is, the more adverse experiences a child has, the worse the life outcomes.
Because the study was concerned primarily with public health, the outcomes of Adverse Childhood Experiences that were identified are primarily medical. They include high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, pulmonary disease and heart attacks. Other studies have made the connection between family dysfunction and psychological problems and difficulty with employment and marriage.
Certainly, any child who is neglected or abused needs help. If this child is in your family room every afternoon, it’s up to you to do something to provide that help.
What to do?
• Provide respect, not rejection. The abused and neglected child already is uncertain about his self-worth. You don’t want to make it worse. Try to see the person behind the evidence of uncaring.
• At the same time, establish limits needed to preserve your own family’s well-being. You do not need to feed and clothe this child and no one is suggesting that you do that. Depending on the age of the child, you might be able to guide her in taking initiative herself for her own care.
• If there seems to be a serious problem, you must link this child to someone with the power to help. Talk to the school principal or social worker. These people are “mandated reporters,” meaning they are required by law to report instances of neglect and abuse. If you don’t feel the school personnel are being helpful, call your local office of child protective services. You can make an anonymous call, though if you can give your name you may be able to be more helpful.
• If the child seems to be in immediate danger, or if she has younger siblings that may be in more danger than she is, then call your local police. They will investigate and determine if the situation is serious enough to warrant action.
Do not ignore the child who seems forlorn. You’ll be glad you stepped in. Your actions might not only help the child now but provide him with a better, healthier future.
- © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.