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Hello Idaho: Recognizing and preventing child abuse

Every member of a community has a role to play in keeping children safe.

BOISE, Idaho — It takes a community of parents, teachers, and neighbors to recognize and prevent abuse towards children. 

Optum Idaho's Dr. Dennis Woody says that April is Child Abuse Awareness month, making it a great time for everyone to focus on the importance of stopping abuse.

"The term abuse includes a variety of different things that can happen to children – neglect, certainly trauma, and sexual abuse should be incorporated into that global term," he said. "About every 9 seconds a child is sexually assaulted, and the incidence of this type of abuse and damage to children and their development can be manifested years later, even in the context of emotional, physical, and medical issues."

Woody says everyone can help prevent abuse by learning the scope of the problem as well as minimizing opportunities for a child to be targeted. Parents should avoid leaving their son or daughter alone with someone they don't know well, he said.

Talking to your own children about boundaries is important as well, Woody said.

"We have a wonderful community of folks around this state and it's our inclination to want to trust people, but it's important to stay alert and be cognizant of what might be occurring around you with respect to children," he said. "Learn where to go and who to contact when in fact you have a concern - that's very important, not to just freeze in place."

Woody said anyone who is worried that a child may have been assaulted or abused has a duty to speak up about those suspicions.

"You don't need to be the investigator, but you do need to be the indicator that there is a concern," he said. "Get involved. Volunteer around these sorts of issues in your community, and you can even donate money to assist with their mission points."

Knowing the signs of abuse can also help individuals know when to reach out to law enforcement of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

"If you're an educator or if you're someone who has the occasion to engage with younger folks, know those signs and symptoms in little kids that are indicative of concerns about potential sexual assault," Woody said.

To report child abuse or neglect, dial 2-1-1 to be connected to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's Care Line. Parents or caregivers who are struggling and feel they may harm their own child can call or text the HelpNow line at 986-867-1073 or visit Idaho Family Support website.  

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