Know the signs of children at risk.

Child abuse and neglect is increasing in our community. While abuse is not defined by income level, we do know that economic stress can have a disproportionate impact on children.

Parents who are worried about paying the rent or feeding their children often may feel isolated and frustrated. Without support, some parents reach a breaking point and lash out at their children. It is important to be aware of the impact the downturn of the economy has had on the overall health and safety of children in central Ohio and to identify and help those children who are at risk.

Historically, economic hardships often corresponded to an increase in child maltreatment. In 2008, physicians at the Center for Child and Family Advocacy (CCFA) provided more in-patient consultations for suspected abuse and neglect than any year since Nationwide Children's Hospital has been compiling data. Child abuse also was the leading cause of injury-related death in 2008.

No specific test can determine if a child is at risk. However, when parents lose employment, are stressed, feel isolated, or experience substance abuse or domestic violence, the risk to their children can increase. This does not mean that every parent who loses a job is going to abuse hhis or her children. Many parents who lose employment have support networks and, more importantly, coping skills that allow them to be patient parents even when they experience high levels of stress. The important point for all of us is to be aware and willing to readily provide support.

"When the stress of economic realities clashes with the challenges of raising a child, even parents who have the best intentions can harm or neglect their children," said Yvette McGee Brown, president of the CCFA at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "The best way to prevent child abuse and neglect is to provide parents with the support, skills and resources they need to be effective caregivers, particularly during this difficult time."

It also is essential for parents to be mindful of the risks for child maltreatment within their immediate surroundings and community. By taking the right approach, we can help parents who may be stressed. "If you know of families or friends who are experiencing high levels of stress, look for ways to help alleviate the tension," McGee Brown said. "Offer to watch their children for a few hours, invite them over for dinner, or stop by for a visit to give them support."

If parents are having difficulties dealing with stress, they can contact Help Me Grow at (614) 722-8200, a resource of the CCFA at Nationwide Children's Hospital. The CCFA is the first facility of its kind in the United States to bring together a comprehensive range of programs and services that are directed toward the intervention and prevention of child abuse and family violence.