Spotlight in The Zebra: April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month 

April 3, 2023

By Michelle Smith Howard, Executive Director, Kids’ First Years

Alexandria, VA – Since 1983, April has been designated as National Child Abuse Prevention Month to raise awareness and prevent child abuse in the United States. In our region, Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN) of Northern Virginia knows that child abuse can be prevented when families and communities come together to build resiliency, take action, and stand with child advocates.

Kids’ First Years is proud to partner with SCAN of Northern Virginia and the Center for Alexandria’s Children to create a strong support system for parents, families, and caregivers responsible for raising children in Alexandria.

What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse is any mistreatment of a minor that results in harm or injury. It usually happens at home; over 90% of abuse is by someone known to the child. While child abuse can be a one-time occurrence, it is more often part of a pattern of behavior involving regular attacks or acts of abuse. Abuse results in immediate harm and has short- and long-term impacts on a child’s healthy development.

Four Types of Child Abuse

  • Neglect: Failure to provide for a child’s basic needs.
  • Physical Abuse: Injury from hitting, kicking, shaking, burning, or otherwise harming a child, including using unnecessary medical procedures.
  • Sexual Abuse: Indecent exposure, inappropriate touching, rape, or exploitation through trafficking or the production or viewing of sexual images. This includes both contact and non-contact offenses.
  • Emotional Abuse: Any pattern of behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth, including constant criticism, threats, and rejection or isolation.

Note: More than one type of abuse can occur simultaneously. For example, emotional abuse is often involved when another form of abuse is taking place.

Prevention and Healing Start with Awareness

“By raising awareness about the importance of preventing child abuse, we can build a community of people who are paying attention to children,” said Emily Robinson, director of communications and public awareness for SCAN of Northern Virginia. “Awareness also builds resilience for survivors who may have been victims of child abuse in the past. We want people to know that if you are a child abuse survivor, you’re not broken. There are resources available to move forward.”

SCAN of Northern Virginia offers many resources on its website, including parenting classes, family coaching, and tips on parenting for parents and grandparents. “Anyone who cares for kids knows parenting is not an easy job,” Robinson added. “Children don’t come with manuals.”

Leah Fraley, executive director of SCAN of Northern Virginia and a child abuse survivor, shared that a lot of shame can be associated with being a child abuse victim. “Whenever we talk to groups about child abuse, someone always comes up afterward to tell their story to us,” she said. “Part of the healing is knowing that you did nothing wrong and you’re not alone.”

SCAN’s mission to prevent child abuse requires a solid base of people willing to draw a line in the sand and do what’s necessary to stop this from happening to children. “A child being abused just needs one person to listen and take action, which can make a big difference in that child’s life,” said Fraley. “Child abuse is preventable, and creating solutions that support children, families, professionals, and the community around them is the most effective way of bringing about lasting change.”

Making a report about child abuse might be frightening or uncomfortable, but it could save a child’s life. If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, you can make a confidential report anytime by calling the Virginia hotline at 800-552-7096 or by calling the Center for Alexandria’s Children at 703-746-6018. CAC partners with Kids’ First Years on child abuse prevention. More details about making a report can be found at scanva.org/report-abuse/ or centerforalexandriaschildren.org.

“We take a comprehensive approach to building a safe family,” said Fraley. “Investing in prevention is essential, and that’s what SCAN is all about.”

How to Observe Child Abuse Prevention Month

  • Plant Pinwheels: Pinwheels are a visible reminder of the happy and healthy childhood that all children deserve. Gardens featuring pinwheels bring awareness to the community during Child Abuse Prevention Month. Decorate your garden with a pinwheel or visit a pinwheel garden in Northern Virginia by viewing a map of locations at org/April/#gardens.
  • Social Media: Share photos of pinwheel gardens on your social media platforms. Be sure to tag @SCANofNOVA and follow SCAN of Northern Virginia on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You can tag the Center for Alexandria’s Children at @alexandriaskids and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
  • Support Spring2ACTion: This April 26 is Alexandria’s Giving Day, presented by ACT for Alexandria. SCAN of Northern Virginia is among the nonprofit organizations that will benefit from this annual event.

To get involved with SCAN of Northern Virginia, visit scanva.org to learn more by signing up for the email newsletter. You also can follow SCAN on the social media platforms listed above.