Child Abuse Prevention Month

April is nationally recognized as Child Abuse Prevention & Awareness Month and we are using this time to dive into why prevention matters, what prevention really looks like, and how parents, caregivers, and community members can help protect children.

Why Does Prevention Matter?

Child Abuse is a pervasive issue that negatively impacts the victim. These negative impacts can last a lifetime if proper support and intervention is not available. Children who experience abuse are more likely to struggle with mental health, substance abuse, interpersonal relationships, physical health and overall wellbeing as adults. If this alone isn’t enough of a reason to work to prevent abuse, the CDC estimates that economic burden of child abuse is approximately $592 Billion dollars.

Prevention also sends a message of support and empowerment to victims of abuse. Eric Barreras, Violence Prevention and Response Consultant states “prevention sends a message to people that cause harm to children – that we’ve had enough. It sends a message to survivors – that they’re not alone. We’re sending a message to those unsure about coming forward – that we’re ready and willing to support them. We’re establishing rapport with the community we serve. We’re building trust”.

What Does Prevention Look Like?

Darkness to Light has a 5-step framework for how to protect children that any one adult or organization can easily use in their own life or agency. Each step details what parents, caregivers and community members can do to learn the facts, minimize the opportunity, talk about the issue, recognize the signs, and act responsibly.

Step 1: Learning the facts. It is estimated that 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday. To better understand child sexual abuse, it is important to understand who the victims are and who is doing the abuse.

  • 90% of children are abused by someone they know.
  • As many as 60% are abused by people the family trusts.
  • About 35% of victims are 11 years old or younger.
  • Nearly 40% are abused by older or larger children.

To learn more facts on sexual abuse, visit: Step 1: Learn the Facts – Facts About Child Sexual Abuse (

Step 2: Minimizing Opportunity. More than 80% of sexual abuse cases occur in isolated, one-on-one situations.

If we can create safer environments for children, we can reduce the opportunity for sexual abuse to occur. Here are a few tips from Darkness to Light on what caregivers can do to minimize the opportunity of abuse happening in one-on-one situations.

  • Drop in unexpectedly when the child is alone with an adult or another youth, even if it is a trusted family member.
  • Make sure outings are observable – if not by you, then by others.
  • Ask adults about the specifics of planned activities before the child leaves your care. Notice their ability to be specific.
  • Talk with the child following the activity. Notice the child’s mood and whether he or she can tell you with confidence how the time was spent.
  • Find a way to tell adults who care for children that you and the child are educated about child sexual abuse. Be that direct.

For more information on minimizing opportunities, visit: Step 2: Minimize Opportunity – Darkness to Light (

Step 3: Talk About It. One of the best prevention tools is talking openly and consistently to children about body safety, safe adults, and boundaries. Start from an early age and talk often. Here are a few ways to talk to kids about sexual abuse from Darkness to Light:

  • Teach children that it is “against the rules” for adults to act in a sexual way with them, and use examples.
  • Teach them what parts of their bodies others should not touch.
  • Be sure to mention that the abuser might be an adult friend, family member, or older youth.
  • Teach children not to give out personal information while using the Internet, including email addresses, home addresses, and phone numbers.

We can also help break down barriers by understanding why some children are afraid to tell. We may not know what the abuser said to the child, if threats were made, or if the child truly understood what was happening to them. Darkness to Light looks at the reasons why children may not disclose and how children may communicate abuse when they do begin to tell.

  • The abuser shames the child, points out that the child let it happen, or tells the child that his or her parents will be angry.
  • The abuser is often manipulative and may try to confuse the child about what is right and wrong, or tell them the abuse is a “game.”
  • Children often love the abuser, and don’t want to get anyone in trouble or end the relationship.
  • Children may tell portions of what happened or pretend it happened to someone else to gauge adult reaction.

For more information on breaking down barriers and reasons children may be afraid to speak out, visit: Step 3: Talk About It – Talking to Kids About Sexual Abuse (

Step 4: Recognize the Signs. Learn to spot the signs of abuse and report it. When abuse is reported, children have the chance to start the healing process. Signs of child abuse can take many forms. Often one or two of these signs do not confirm that a child has been abused but are causes of concern.

  • Physical signs of sexual abuse are not common, although redness, rashes/swelling in the genital area, urinary tract infections, or other such symptoms should be carefully investigated.
  • Sexual behavior or knowledge that is beyond the child’s age, including inappropriate sexual contact with other children, watching pornography, compulsive masturbation, or saying graphic sexual things.
  • Sometimes children who experience abuse show emotional or behavioral signs, including sudden changes in eating or sleeping patterns, nightmares, isolation and mental health issues.
  • Be aware that in some children there are no signs whatsoever.

For more information on recognizing the signs, visit: Step 4: Recognize the Signs – Darkness to Light (

Step 5: Act Responsibly. Know how to respond when a child makes a disclosure and what to do if you suspect abuse is taking place.

When a child makes a disclosure, an adult’s response is incredibly important. To read what to do and what not to do, visit our blog post: When a Child Makes a Disclosure – Child Advocacy Center of Niagara (

If you suspect a child is being abused, call the New York State Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-342-3720.

For more information on how to respond to suspicions of abuse, visit: Step 5: React Responsibly – Darkness to Light (

Stewards of Children

If you are interested in receiving Darkness to Light’s training, Stewards of Children, for your organization, please contact the Child Advocacy Center of Niagara. We are trained facilitators of this program and can provide in-person or virtual trainings for your organization. For more information, call the CAC of Niagara at 716.285.0045.