April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

Read “A child’s life could depend on you,” an op-ed published today in both The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald by República’s Chairman & CEO Jorge A. Plasencia, who is also the Cofounder & Chairman of Amigos For Kids.

A child’s life could depend on you

Each year in the United States, almost one million children are abused or neglected by those most close to them. Almost 2,000 of these children die. In 1990, the grim reality of this abuse confronted our community.

The small body of Lazaro Figueroa, known as Baby Lollipops, was found beaten and malnourished in a cherry hedge on Miami Beach. Lazaro’s story inspired us to create Amigos For Kids, in 1991, an organization dedicated to preventing child abuse.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Amigos For Kids spearheads awareness efforts in our community, partnering with numerous entities including Miami-Dade County Public Schools. It is encouraging that we, as a community, designate this month to remind us to protect those who are most vulnerable and defenseless, though it is indeed tragic such a need exists.

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that the majority of abused children face neglect; the remainder withstand physical, sexual and emotional abuse. More than half of those children are abused by people whom they trust. Abusers can be parents, relatives, babysitters, teachers or coaches.

Child abuse does not discriminate and transcends gender or race. According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, four children die each day as a result of neglect or abuse. Of the children who do not suffer fatal injuries at the hands of their abusers, many grow up to become, themselves, abusers — violence begetting violence in a cycle that many in America are all too familiar with.

According to the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, 41 percent of child fatalities, because of abuse or neglect, occur to children less than a year old. Seventy-five percent are children under the age of 4. These are not children who can escape their abusers. These are not children who can simply call 911 or file a restraining order or run away from home.

Be their voice

These are children who depend on us, their neighbors and teachers and bus drivers and friends, to be a voice for them when they cannot speak. They depend on us to protect them, to recognize signs of abuse and take action to end this injustice.

Each week in this country, child-protection agencies receive more than 50,000 reports of suspected child-abuse cases. Child-protective agencies like Florida’s Department of Children & Families tell us that more than two-thirds of those reports provide sufficient cause for an investigation to be performed. But if we are reporting every case of child abuse, why do 2,000 American children still die at the hands of their abusers? Because we look the other way. We are busy. We do not want to get involved or overstep boundaries or tell someone else how to parent their child.

Please, please get involved. A child’s life could depend on you. Know some of the signs of abuse or neglect. Keep an eye out for: nervousness around adults, aggression toward adults or other children, inability to concentrate, dramatic changes in personality, interest in sexual activities that are not appropriate for the child’s age, frequent or unexplained bruises or injuries, low self-esteem and poor hygiene.

If you suspect abuse or neglect, report it! You can reach the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873), or dial 911 to reach the police department if you sense a child is in immediate danger.

While reporting suspicions is imperative to halting child abuse, I firmly believe that we can do more to prevent it from occurring in the first place. We can call or write our elected officials to educate them about the abuse issues in our community. We can work with our school districts and faith-based communities to support programs for new parents. We can reach out to the families in our communities. We can keep a watchful eye out for families that abuse drugs and alcohol, have difficulty controlling anger or stress or appear uninterested in the care, nourishment or safety of their children.

We can provide a sympathetic ear, offer advice to those who turn to us, and, above all, trust our gut instincts. This is what Amigos For Kids works tirelessly to accomplish.

Save a life

Every child deserves to grow up in a happy home with loving and supportive caretakers. I was at a dinner a few years back in Washington, D.C., honoring Nancy Reagan. She was asked why she championed drug-free kids and made this her legacy with the “Just Say No” campaign.

She replied, “I felt if we made one child not try drugs, it was all worth it.”

While we sadly cannot ensure a happy home and loving parents for every child, I believe that after reading this, if one person decides to report a case of child abuse or neglect, we saved another life. After all, there is no excuse for child abuse.

Jorge A. Plasencia is cofounder and chairman of Amigos For Kids.