Sadly, child abuse is a major problem throughout the United States. In 2010, there were 170,471 reported cases of child abuse and neglect in Los Angeles County and 36,664 reported cases in Orange County. These statistics are based on calendar year data from the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services and the Orange County Social Services Agency. The age group with the highest abuse rate is 0-3 years. Nationally, the highest form of abuse is neglect followed by physical abuse. A new novel, The Wooden Chair, by Rayne E. Golay portrays an example of child subjected to abuse from her mother that persisted well into adulthood.
Throughout her childhood in Helsiki, Finland, Leini is abused by her alcoholic, domineering mother. Sadly, her father, grandparents, and uncle do nothing to stop the abuse. Leini desperately strives to earn her mother’s love. Rather than succeeding, the attempt causes her the loss of sight in one eye and a distorted facial expression due to the wandering. This disfigurement subjects her to bullying by her peers. As a teenager, with her grandfather’s help, she undergoes one more surgery to straighten her eye; however, the psychological scar of the events of her childhood remain. Leina learns that her mother was abused by her mother—a not uncommon scenario where the abuse travels downward through generations. Leini hopes to be a good person and a good mother; thus, breaking the tragic cycle. But can she succeed? Read the book to find out.
Ms. Golay offers these suggestions for recognizing and reporting suspected child abuse:
- Do not be afraid to be wrong. You do not need to have hard evidence or proof of child abuse or neglect to report your concerns. If you are wrong, social workers and investigators will soon discover that and close the case. It might be uncomfortable for the alleged abuser and he or she may get angry. In addition, you can report anonymously, and it is far better to risk someone taking offense or social workers finding no evidence of abuse than for a child to suffer because no one speaks up.
- Actions often speak volumes. Does a young child cringe, raise an arm defensively or try to hide when her mother turns to her? These behaviors can be the reflexive response of a child who is frequently hit. Do you know a child who has become withdrawn, had a persistent loss of appetite, or started doing poorly in school? Changes in behavior may signal a variety of emotional problems, including abuse and neglect. What about witnessing an adult lose their patience with a child at a store or other public place in a manner that seems over-the-top? If it appears to be an emergency, call 911, Ms. Golay says. Otherwise, try to defuse the situation. “You might smile at the parent and say something like, ‘It can be so hard to bring kids shopping. I remember it well.’ Scolding or criticizing will only make the situation worse, but attention and understanding words may calm the person.”
- How to report your concerns? If you want to talk to a professional crisis counselor before making a report, call Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). While counselors cannot file a report for you, they can answer your questions, provide information about resources, and discuss the situation that has drawn your concern. If you witness a situation that requires an immediate law enforcement response, call 911.
“Whatever you do,” says Golay, “do something.” She adds, “We’re all very aware of child abuse and neglect, but still, most people continue to hang back and say or do nothing when they have concerns. This is not acceptable. We all have a duty to keep our children safe.”
To report child abuse in Los Angeles County, California, contact the Child Protection Hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Toll-free within California, phone (800) 540-4000
- If calling from outside of California, phone (213) 639-4500
- TDD [Hearing Impaired] (800) 272-6699
About Rayne E. Golay
Rayne E. Golay is a certified drug and alcohol counselor whose work with addicts informs her understanding and insights into the consequences of child abuse. She has a Master’s in Psychology and is a lifelong reader and writer. The Wooden Chair, published in 2013 by Untreed Reads, won the Royal Palm Literary Award for mainstream literature in the 2005 Florida Writers Association’s competition. She hopes that this story inspires witnesses to speak up for children whom they suspect are suffering from any form of abuse and/or neglect.