Ìyánifá Ifáṣadé Shamette Franklin spoke to the AFRO about child maltreatment, ways to spot the issue and help children facing mistreatment, and offered tips to avoid neglecting or abusing young people in the future. (Screenshot)

Micha Green and Ìyánifá Ifáṣadé Shamette Franklin
Special to the AFRO

With the COVID-19 pandemic, pupils were suddenly missing from in-person interactions; and when child maltreatment rates lowered March to May 2020, childhood welfare specialists began to worry that children were actually experiencing more abuse but unable to disclose.  Despite initial concerns, according to Ìyánifá Ifáṣadé Shamette Franklin, MSW, LGSW, who has a wealth of experience in childhood and young adult social work and counseling, improved virtual programming has allowed for students to disclose and reporting adults to notice and act on issues.  The counselor and former Child Protective Services social worker offered tips to ensure that parents can avoid mistreating themselves and their children,  and a checklist to help in instances of potential child maltreatment.

Now let’s start from the beginning, what exactly is child maltreatment?  

“Child maltreatment is an action or inaction that results in harm to a child,” Franklin said on AFRO Live.  For instance, is this child not being fed- neglect?  Is this child not being bathed properly, do they not have seasonally appropriate clothing?  Or is this child being abused?  Is this child exhibiting behaviors that are not normal for a child?  Even, is this child being called to act as a parent. Those sort of things are child maltreatment.”

“A lot of times, because of movies and media, people kind of have tunnel vision as to what exactly the mistreatment of a child looks like, but it can be a range of things that are under the umbrella,” Franklin added.

So, no, child maltreatment does not just look like Penny from Good Times being burned by the iron or Mommy Dearest yelling about a wire hanger, it’s a variety of ways children are being neglected or negatively impacted or harmed.  There are also a variety of ways for adults to look out for children, report potential cases of child maltreatment and avoid mistreating young people themselves.

With the pandemic presenting issues for all people, Franklin emphasized that parents must ensure that they are treating themselves well so they can properly care for their children.

“If you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re more likely to act out, even as an adult.  And so that’s where you start.  You start with ‘Am I showering and feeding myself? Are my basic needs being met?’  If you’re not meeting your basic needs, you’re more than likely in a position to not have healthy responses to your children,” Franklin said.

Further, Franklin emphasized that all adults have the ability to report children who are being mistreated or neglected.

“Everyone has the capacity and the expertise to be a reporter of potential child maltreatment,” she said.

Franklin created basic checklists for readers to look out for signs of child maltreatment, ways to help children who are potentially experiencing abuse or neglect and to help parents ensure they are caring for themselves and their children accordingly.

Some signs of child maltreatment

1.Basic needs aren’t met (hunger, no appropriate shelter, child exhibits poor hygiene, clothing not seasonally appropriate, not attending school regularly)

  1. Child exhibits bruising, welts, burns, scarring, open wounds, in chronic physical pain and has not been medically treated

3.Child not receiving proper supervision

  1. Parentification- child is required to act in the capacity of parent due to parent neglect
  2. Drastic behavior changes /child is behaving in other ways that are developmentally inappropriate 
  3. Living environment is hazardous (utilities not properly working, extremely unkempt/unclean, appearance of animal droppings, exposed wires, etc)
  4. A child discloses to you that they are being maltreated

Ways to help a child who may be experiencing abuse/ neglect

  1. If a child discloses to you DON’T OVERREACT. REMAIN CALM AND LET THEM FINISH THE DISCLOSURE. Once they are done, thank them for being brave enough to tell you. Let them know you believe them and that you will get them help to be safe.
  2. Follow your intuition and make a report to your local government child welfare agency, the moment you suspect abuse/ neglect, with as much identifying information as possible. DO NOT ENGAGE IN YOUR OWN INVESTIGATION. The experts will investigate and provide the family with needed supports.
  3. It takes a village!!!! Everyone is responsible for keeping children safe.

Five signs parents need a time-out to recharge/ seek professional mental health support

  1. Avoiding caring for basic needs (eating, proper sleep, hygiene)
  2. Low frustration tolerance for normal child behaviors (ie: child asking questions, wanting to play, sibling bickering, etc.)
  3. Increased maladaptive behaviors (binge eating, substance abuse, avoidance, self-harm, risky sexual behaviors etc)

4.Not being able to honor you or your child (ren)’s routine

  1. Isolation from /avoiding checking in with your support system (family, friends, neighbors, religious groups)

Self Awareness and Self-care are the best ways parents (and everyone) can support themselves during these times. Knowing intimately what your needs are and how to meet them in healthy ways are important. Be sure you are eating well, moving your body, relaxing your mind and feeding your spirit. If anyone finds it difficult to do these things, do not hesitate to seek professional help.