GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — It's a problem that often goes unnoticed, occurring behind closed doors. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and advocates for victims of child abuse say it's important for the public to recognize the warning signs.
"One in seven children experience abuse and neglect," said Dawn Gohlke, the executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates of the Fox Cities. "In the state of Wisconsin, that means about four to five thousand children throughout the entire state all year-round.”
Melissa Blom, the director of early childhood programs at Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin, says that one of the primary signs of child abuse is unexplained injuries.
"The things that we look for when we’re doing home visiting with young first-time parents with little ones are bruising in different spots," Blom said. "If it looks suspicious and if you ask a child and the explanation doesn't match the injury, you want to try to reach out and report."
If a child appears to be excessively hungry at school or is wearing clothing that are dirty or do not fit, this can also be a sign of neglect. Additionally, Blom says it's also important to notice sudden changes in a child's behavior.
"When children cower or when they’re next to someone and the person reaches out to them and they cower and are fearful of adults,” Blom said.
Angela Steuck, one of the programming vice presidents for Family Services, says the warning signs can look different depending on a child’s age. In teenagers, signs of abuse may include periods of isolation.
“It could be running away, it could be staying in their room for extended periods of time, anything that tends to be different," Steuck said.
If you recognize any of these warning signs in a child, advocates say it's a good idea to check in with them.
“What we can do as neighbors, as citizens, as people living in a community is reach out is ask ‘are you okay?’" Blom said. "Ask children ‘how are you doing?’”
You can report child abuse or neglect to your county's Department of Health and Human Services at anytime or call Child Protective Services.
You can learn more about Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin here or click here to learn about CASA Fox Cities, which trains court-appointed advocates for children who are victims of abuse or neglect.