Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month Message
By Minister for Health and Social Development
Honourable Carvin Malone
Greetings to everyone in the Virgin Islands, region and the world. I join in solidarity with the rest of the world to bring a message of support and protection for our children. The month of April is Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month and Autism Awareness Month.
The focus of this year’s theme has significantly shifted from direct outreach to prevention and awareness. The new COVID normal has changed the way we do things. It has even changed the way we care for our children. I want to remind you that we all have the responsibility to protect our children’s physical, mental and emotional health.
I am proud to say that the Virgin Islands community has produced strong and thriving families throughout its history, and resilience, and through those mechanisms we should continue to employ the necessary steps to ensure that families bond together during this difficult time. I have no doubt that collectively we will all do our part to keep our children safe!
As it pertains to COVID, I want you to remind your children of the importance of proper hand hygiene. They should wash their hands before and after meals, before going to bed, after using the bathroom, playing outside and before entering the home. Lower their vulnerability to COVID by reducing play dates, birthday parties and other social engagements.
As we navigate these unforeseen challenges together, be mindful that our children mimic the behaviors we express as parents and as such, we need to set a proper example. We need to be deliberate, reassuring and proactive in our hygienic practices. Also, be mindful of the children who are differently-abled and may require extra care and attention. Every child matters and we have to do all that we can to protect them from harm or hazard of any kind.
The impact of COVID has devastated many families making children more vulnerable to abuse. Some families are stressed by worries about housing, employment, health, substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence or other problems. Some simply cannot attend to the basic needs of their children. These circumstances, combined with the inherent challenges of raising children, can result in otherwise well-intentioned parents causing their children harm or neglecting their needs.
All of our children DESERVE and NEED love and respect. It is our job as adults to make sure our children are safe from physical and sexual abuse, that they are not exposed to violence, and expected to handle situations that are beyond their developmental ability, or are emotionally traumatised.
The Government of the Virgin Islands seeks to protect our Territory’s children, because we know that today’s children will become tomorrow’s leaders. How we treat and care for our children today, will determine the type of future, family and society we will have tomorrow.
As the Minister for Health and Social Development, I am making a plea to the whole of society to protect and take care of our children and allow them the type of childhood that will foster a positive impact on their lives not only now, but in the future!
If you are wondering how you can do your part to make this goal a reality. Here are 10 Things You Can Do to Prevent Child Abuse!
- Volunteer your time. Get involved with other parents in your community. Help vulnerable children and their families.
- Discipline your children thoughtfully. Never discipline your child when you are upset. Give yourself time to calm down. Remember that discipline is a way to teach your child. Use privileges to encourage good behavior and time-outs to help your child regain control.
- Examine your behavior. Abuse is not just physical. Both words and actions can inflict deep, lasting wounds. Be a nurturing parent. Use your actions to show children and other adults that conflicts can be settled without hitting or yelling.
- Educate yourself and others. Simple support for children and parents can be the best way to prevent child abuse. After-school activities, parent education classes, mentoring programs, and respite care are some of the many ways to keep children safe from harm. Be a voice in support of these efforts in your community.
- Teach children their rights. When children are taught they are special and have the right to be safe, they are less likely to think abuse is their fault, and more likely to report an offender.
- Support prevention programmes. Too often, intervention occurs only after abuse is reported. Greater investments are needed in programs that have been proven to stop the abuse before it occurs - such as family counseling and home visits by nurses who provide assistance for newborns and their parents.
- Know what child abuse is. Physical and sexual abuse clearly constitute maltreatment, but so does neglect, or the failure of parents or other caregivers to provide a child with needed food, clothing, and care. Children can also be emotionally abused when they are rejected, berated, or continuously isolated.
- Know the signs. Unexplained injuries are not the only signs of abuse. Depression, fear of a certain adult, difficulty trusting others or making friends, sudden changes in eating or sleeping patterns, inappropriate sexual behavior, poor hygiene, secrecy, and hostility are often signs of family problems and may indicate a child is being neglected or physically, sexually, or emotionally abused.
- Report abuse. If you witness a child being harmed or see evidence of abuse, make a report to Social Development Department or the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force. When talking to a child about abuse, listen carefully, assure the child that he or she did the right thing by telling an adult, and affirm that he or she is not responsible for what happened.
- Invest in children. Encourage leaders in the community to be supportive of children and families. Ask employers to provide family-friendly work environments.
So as we observe Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness and Autism Awareness Month remember the theme “Every Child Matters. Every Community Aware, because that is the only way we can begin to make a difference! We need to protect our children one community at a time, and one child at a time. Blessings and thank you for listening.