Abuse Prevention: Supporting Mothers Through Koinonia
All children are not abused, but many children are. The 2012 Annual Child Maltreatment report, which is a compilation of reported child abuse cases from states within the US, shows that although victimization of children “dropped by 3.3% from 2011 to 2012” child abuse is still a major problem. The age group most victimized (i.e. assaulted) are children between the ages of 0 to 3. The report also showed that at present, the most prevalent forms of child abuse (in order of occurrence) are:
- Neglect (78.3%) which is defined as “failure to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs”;
- Physical Abuse (18.3%) which is defined as “inflicting non-accidental physical injury (e.g. burning, hitting, punching, shaking, beating, etc.) on a child”;
- Sexual Abuse (9.3%) which is defined as “inappropriate sexual behavior and contact (e.g. fondling, touching, pornography, etc.) towards a child”; and
- Emotional & Psychological Abuse (8.5%) which is defined as “ injury (i.e. belittling, harsh criticism, lack of emotional attachment, etc.) towards a child”.
For most of us outside of the Human Services field it may come as a great shock to learn that about 80% of abused children are abused by their biological parents. Even more alarming and heart wrenching is the fact that aside from sexual abuse mothers are the primary perpetrators (i.e. abusers) of children – this is in the areas of neglect, physical abuse, and emotional & psychological abuse. To better understand when this “trend” started to occur published Child Maltreatments reports as far back as 1995 were reviewed. Sadly all the reports were consistent with the current reported statistics, including the finding that mothers are the primary perpetrators (i.e. abusers) of children.
It’s a very difficult thing to digest particularly since motherhood brings to mind the giving of life, loving, nurturing, caring, supporting …all of which is completely opposite of the character & nature of a child abuser. Discovering this fact caused me to take a look down memory lane of all the mothers I’ve ever encountered. For some of these mothers I recall having a “gut feeling” that “something” wasn’t “right”. These were mothers who ranged from secular to religious, college-educated to non-college educated, stay-at-home, married moms to single as well as married working mothers. They spanned various races and ranged in ages from the early 20s to the late 40s. These mothers stood out to me because they had exhibited a combination of signs in their demeanor, disposition, behavior, and speech which gave the impression they had the potential to abuse (or even had abused) their child (children). Some of the combinations of signs included:
- Abnormal level of anger shown towards their child (children);
- Abnormal level of aggression shown towards their child (children);
- Insensitivity shown towards their child (children);
- Disinterested in their child (children);
- Disengaged from their child (children);
- Despondent in reaction to verbal & physical requests from their child (children);
- Becoming easily frustrated & angered by child (children);
- Child (children) appearing not well kept (i.e., not bathe, unclean, disheveled, etc.);
- Child (children) fending for themselves (i.e. begging neighbors or others for food, etc.);
- Child (children) left unattended (i.e. no adult supervision) for an abnormal or extended period of time;
- Mother repeatedly passive aggressively attempting to “push” care of child (children) onto others;
- Mother was self-focused, self-centered, self-involved at the expense of child (children);
- Mother frequently spoke harshly (i.e. snapping, cursing, swearing, condemning) to child (children);
- Mother frequently appearing distressed (overwhelmed) and (or) depressed; and
- Mother becoming uneasy and nervous if a bruise, scrape or uncleanness, etc. was noticed on her child (children) and (or) commented and inquired about.
These signs and characteristics are not listed to judge or condemn any parent as the word of God says “Judge not, that you not be judged” (Matthew 7:1); however hurting people hurt people and abusers – including child abusers have serious heart issues. It is only God, through the power of His Holy Spirit that can fix and heal issues of the heart. This road to healing can only come through a profound encounter, confrontation, and revelation of His love conveyed through His kindness for it is the kindness of God that lead men to repentance (Romans 2:4b); His love is patient and His love is kind (1 Corinthians 13:4a).
So, aside from reporting all suspected and confirmed child abuse to Child Protective Services (CPS) and law enforcement (as mandated by law) what else can we as non-human service & non-law enforcement professionals do to help prevent child abuse? Answer: simply allow yourself to be used as an instrument of God’s kindness through koinonia.
Koinonia (koy-nohn-ee-ah) is the Biblical Greek word meaning partnership; participation or social interaction (Strong’s Greek 2842) and indicates fellowship and fellowshipping. The word of God tells us “if anyone has this world’s goods (resources for sustaining life) and sees his brother and fellow believer in need, yet closes his heart of compassion against him, how can the love of God live and remain in him? (1 John 3:17)” If and when we come into contact with mothers (be it in our churches, neighborhoods, etc.) that we see struggling and showing the signs which causes us to get the gut feeling that “something isn’t right” we don’t have to shake off our feelings and nervously walk away. We can actively involve ourselves in preventing child abuse by engaging the mothers. Yes, it will take some investment of time, emotion, and energy but may turn out to be the greatest blessing to a family and more importantly to the (child) children in that family. Below is a short list of some of the possible things we can do to help prevent child abuse through koinonia:
- Intercede and pray for them (mother and children)
- Befriend the mother (i.e. talk, listen, etc.)
- Model and encourage positive parental behavior to the mother
- Help in locating child care assistance, parenting classes, positive youth programs for children, and other services if the need is expressed
- Visit the family (i.e. bring some snacks for the kids, a small bag of groceries for the family, sit and talk with the mother, etc.)
- Be kind and supportive to the children
As we open ourselves up to reaching out God will give each of us more meaningful ways to fellowship with a mother & family in need. Remember pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit and help and care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and need (James 1:27a).