April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Each year, organizations focused on preventing child abuse work to raise awareness of the signs of abuse and neglect and work to prevent trauma to our children by highlighting community resources which help to strengthen family units. Strong, nurturing communities such as ours can play an important role in protecting our youth.

Calhoun Prosecutor Shannon Johnson says, "During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, Calhoun County citizens are in a unique position to help protect our children. While most of us think of our school personnel and medical professionals as being on the front lines of recognizing signs of abuse and neglect in our children, now more than ever, all of us need to step up and be proactive."

Mrs. Johnson notes that while children are not in school, professionals will rely more so on Church leaders, coaches, 4-H and other youth group leaders, other parents, and even community members like grocery store employees and community volunteers who may be continuing to have some contact with our children to report suspected child abuse and neglect.

Signs of abuse we can all watch for in children include: sudden changes in behavior or school performance; unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes; seeming frightened of the parents and protesting or crying when it is time to go home; begging, stealing, or hoarding food or money; lacking needed medical or dental care, immunizations, or glasses; lacking sufficient clothing for the weather; and lacking adult supervision.

Causes for concern we might observe in parents or care givers include: showing little concern for the child; denying the existence of - or blaming the child for – the child's problems in school or at home; asking teachers or other care givers to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves; seeing the child as entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome; demanding a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve; and looking primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of the adult's emotional needs.

It is important to remember that each child will react differently to their own unique situation. It is also important to remember to let our children know that if they are feeling unsafe, they have trusted adults that can help protect them. Encourage our community's children to look out for one another and educate them on who to call in case they need help.

"To report suspected abuse or neglect, call the WV DHHR child abuse hotline at 1-800-352-6513. The hotline operates 24/7. Be prepared to give as many details as you can about the family, the child, and the suspected abuse," Mrs. Johnson says. Reporter information is always kept confidential.

Finally, Mrs. Johnson reminds us that if we notice families under more stress at this time, there are numerous community resources and organizations available to help with food, household items, utility payments, and parenting resources. "Most generally, all you have to do is ask and there will be someone to help. That's the best thing about Calhoun; we will take care of our own. If you can't find help, call my office at 304-354-6170 and I will be glad to point you in the right direction,"she says.