Child abuse targets youngest, most vulnerable

INDIANAPOLIS - On Wednesday, Indianapolis police arrested a couple accused of tying up and beating a 2-year-old until he had a broken jaw, perforated intestine and respiratory failure.

The infant was rushed to Riley Hospital in critical condition – another victim of a crime that disproportionately affects the youngest and most vulnerable.

According to the Indiana Department of Child Services, 63 percent of all child abuse and neglect victims are less than one year old. The vast majority are under 3.

"Unless they do go to preschool or daycare, they may not come into contact with an adult who's able to intercede," said Sandy Rinkle, with Prevent Child Abuse Indiana.

State research cites a pattern of stress factors like unemployment, low income, substance abuse and/or domestic violence.

The research also debunks common myths – among them, that most abused children grow up to be abusive adults.

"In fact, most don't," Runkle said. "That's kind of a myth. Most children who are abused do not grow up to be abusive as adults."

Another myth? That it's always the "boyfriend" who perpetrates child abuse. State numbers show that 68 percent of child abuse victims were abused by their biological parents in 2012, the latest year data was available.

"We always stress that you really need to know about your partner before you ever leave your child with that person," Runkle said. "If that person tends to get angry easily, if they don't appear to really know what to expect from a child, especially a young child. And this is men and women. I think men kind of get a bad rap here, but this is men and women."

"Fathers and Families" is one of the many local not-for-profits that offer a number of programs to help young parents improve their parenting skills.

"We build the essential foundation, the building blocks of what's critical for effective parenting, employment, education and also relationship building and support services," said Dr. Wallace McLaughlin, president and CEO of the Fathers and Families Center.

Experts agree: Even if it's not formal classes or counseling, all struggling parents should find support to help them cope with the stresses of parenting.

To report suspected child abuse, you can call the Indiana Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-800-5556.

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