April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

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As a minister who advocates for the welfare of children and youth, this month should not pass unnoticed by Diaspora community.

This is why I need to communicate the message about prevention of child abuse. Can we please talk now about:

The Bible. The Belt. And Child Abuse?

 By Rev. Wambui Njoroge, MS (Child & Family Studies).

My family and friends, it doesn’t matter that there has been a move to remove the Ten Commandments from Courts, and a debate to remove,m “In God We Trust” from our USA money. We continue normally now that there is no prayer in our schools, and it is all legal. We know that no one can take away what we inherently believe. However, for a moment, consider our belief in the Bible as the Word of God, which guides all that we do especially in our families. Next consider The Belt, yes that one that is used to hold up the pants, and the way it is used to correct children’s behavior. We think and describe this form of discipline as spanking, whooping, paddling and beating a child or a youth. At the same time we speak loudly as advocates for nonviolent homes, schools, and communities. Where do you think we should draw the line between scriptures and our legal system? Where should we draw a line between what the Bible teaches about discipline, and how we use the Belt to discipline children and youth (C/Y)?

Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Now South Georgia is a part of what we refer to as The Bible Belt. You guessed right. I am writing this article from South GA. When I lived in Tennessee, someone told me that Nashville TN is The Buckle of the Belt because a few denominations have their publishing houses located there. When I lived in Kentucky, I remember a field trip to at least 2, that is United Methodist and Southern Baptist. Suffice it to say that here in The Bible Belt, we believe the scriptures and try to live by the Word. As a result most of us are familiar with Proverbs 23:13-14 “Do not withhold correction from a child for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. Vs. 14 You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell. Proverbs 22:15 “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him. From home to some schools, and sometimes in Churches, adults are quick to pick up a belt and whoop a child.

When do adults cross the “Line Between The Bible, The Belt and Child abuse?”  

Unfortunately when appropriate disciplinary measures fail and injury is inflicted on a child, it constitutes physical abuse. This is where the line is drawn between the Bible, the Belt and the Law. When this happens, we say that somebody has crossed the legal line between scriptures and the Law of America. We quickly shift from discipline to physical abuse.

I have started here with physical abuse because many adults in Diaspora are familiar with physical punishment. Many even say, we were beaten and we lived to tell the story. Yet the same adults, are now inflicting injury on their children. There are other forms of abuse, which are not addressed here.

Ask When Does Spanking and Beating a rebellious child become abuse? The World Health Organization (WHO) defines abuse Online as “All forms of physical and/or emotional ill treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.” Essentially, adults who are trusted with children are the ones who are most likely to abuse C/Y.

Physical abuse results from spanking, whooping, beating, paddling, pinching, kicking and hitting a child and the impact of the actions leaves marks on a child’s body. The most common marks left by abuse include, but are not limited to belt buckle marks, hand imprints after a slap, finger and thumb marks in areas where a child is grabbed or squeezed, rope-burns, electric switch marks, bite marks, cigarette burns, as well as bruises and scars around neck, arms, ankles, waist, and buttocks. For  Little girls thighs too.  What do you notice? (Marks are left in areas normally covered by clothing so that they are not immediately visible). This then means that the abuser is aware they are inflicting injury on the C/Y.

Watch carefully because, sometimes the darker my skin is, the harder it is to see or notice these marks. But they are there because the abuse is not a one time thing. It is likely being repeated often. The marks are there, and in their absence, the emotional trauma of abuse lives with the child. It is not just an angry parent or care giver or grandma who is abusing C/Y. It is an adult who lacks skills to discipline a C/Y who is left in their trust. 

When the above happens, a person is known to have crossed that thin line between The Bible, The Belt and the Law.

Who Reports Child Abuse? 

It starts with the word of a child, “My Mama or my Dad beat me with a belt or whooped me…” That is the strongest of all reports made to a responsible adult in the community. It could be reporting suspicion of abuse. in essence, All adults are responsible for the welfare of C/Y, but mostly since our C/Y spend most of their time in school, especially between ages 4years-18years (Pre-K -12 Grade in GA), all school personnel from the Bus driver, custodial, kitchen, teachers and administrators are mandated reporters as are all your adult neighbors, nurses, doctors, MH providers, social workers, counselors. Each school has established protocol on how this is done within the time your C/Y is in school. Recently in GA/because of prevalent abuse in the country, for example the Michigan Case of a Gymnastic coach, and the PA incidence, where I work with 9-12 grades, I would not even report to the college. Staff are required to make a direct report to the Office. This is so because it has been found that sometimes, adults who are supposed to protect C/Y due to their connections, might overlook/and a C/Y continues to be abused sometimes by multiple people either in the home or during recreational activities (the MI & PA cases are on sexual abuse of minors, which is a topic for another time).  A mandated reporter has no choice but to anonymously report child abuse, or failure to report means that mandate reporter should be put in jail for overlooking abuse. Here the common word is, it is better to error on being wrong than being sorry. In America, we are working to build non violent communities and it has to start with everyone who is reading this article.  My word to anyone abusing C/Y in America, is this, it is not a question of if you will be reported, it is more a question of WHEN. You must STOP.

What Happens when children are removed from home or school because of abuse?

Unfortunately, you will not be able to keep a child away from school for more than 3 days. Besides, once the child come to school, teachers and responsible adults will want to know why the child was away. Even a simple answer from a child that my Dad or Mama beat me up with a belt can initiate an investigation. This will be done between 8:00 am and 3:30 pm (the time the school has your C/Y. From the time you drop off your child and pick them up at school/or from the time the School Bus picks up your child and returns them home). This is the time the school staff have to work in less than 12 hours to help C/Y. 

The most unfortunate and painful, and heart wrenching experience for any C/Y, and for any parent is to have children removed from the home because of abuse. Therefore, if you are accused of child abuse, all minor children in your home might be removed from home (State of GA minors are from 0 months to 16 years; 17 year old is considered an adult). Check your state for Minor children/adult ages. The Department of Child and Family Services (DFCS) in conjunction with The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ-court purposes) is responsible for removing your children from home and school and placing them in foster care. It is likely that if you have more than one child, they might be placed in different foster homes based on availability of space and adults who can house them.  Think of this act as putting a yellow tape around a crime scene condoning it; sealing it off to prevent evidence contamination or prevent further criminal behavior, while DFCS completes their investigation. Should have to be arrested, the long arm of the law will come and pick you up from work or home and give you a ride to the jail house in your county. 

Reunification Takes Time: 

At the time child abuse is identified, probably the children have been abused not once, not one year, it could be longer. Equally so, reunification may take a few months and up to 12 months. In the meantime, DFCS and DJJ will work out a plan of reunification with parent(s). The plan may include supervised visitation and sometimes, mandated parenting classes designed to teach appropriate mild methods of discipline.  

You Are Innocent Until Proven Guilty? No in the case of child abuse. Child abuse laws are designed to protect children. Therefore, the court doesn’t have to prove that you are guilty beyond any reasonable doubt, rather you have to prove that you are innocent. The evidence against you most likely speaks, and although you can afford to hire an attorney, C/Y cannot, so the State is their attorney. The court readily believes the simple yet credible report of the child, My Mama or My Dad beat me with a belt. That’s why I have these marks on my body, or that is why I have trouble sitting still because my buttocks hurt.”

Ephesians 6:4 “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Remember training takes time. Be persistent and consistent. Love and nurture C/Y, one day, they will nurture the next generation, and they will say, I sound just like my Mom, Wambui stop that…now I got it. They too will get it.

What Next ?: The Month of April is still with us. Especially this week of Easter. It is not too late for you to be involved in the school programs, or to remember in your Churches to ask for a Special Prayer Request for C/Y. Pray against all forms of abuse on C/Y. 

Some more resources: 

All School Counselors and School Social Workers

www.positivepromotions.comwww.childwelfare.gov

Child help National Child Abuse Hotline/1.800.4.A.Child (1.800.422.4453). 

Child Sexual Abuse/1.800.For.Light (1.866.367.5444). 

When You feel overwhelmed by children/don’t abuse C/Y, get help instead/Help for Parents/855.4AParent (1.855.427.2736)

 (Note: The Title of this article was borrowed from my Professor Julia Malia, University of Tennesse, Knoxville/She researched on this topic over 20 years ago. This article has been published by the same author in various places and is available Online. Modified for April 2019/by Rev. Wambui on Tuesday April.16.2019).

(Wambui Njoroge, is an ordained minister/Facilitates Family Life Enrichment Education Forums, USA. Previously worked as a Child/Adolescent and their Parents-Mental Health Counselor with a GA Public School System/Pre-School-12th Grade).

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Facilitating Family Enrichment Educational Forums (FEEF) 

Rev. Wambui is a Senior Mentor and columnist to Kenyan Parents in USA Newsprint Board.

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