By Katie Becker and Stacie Schroeder
When Cindy started Kindergarten, she was shy. She often came to school in dirty clothes, her face still smudged from a fall at recess the day before.
She learned class lessons quickly, but couldn’t sit still, and interrupted the other kids. By the fifth grade, Cindy talked back to adults, was isolated from most of her classmates, turned her homework in late, and started making jokes about drinking and smoking.
Cindy’s mom never came to parent teacher conferences, rarely went to school concerts, and was known to be at the bar most nights.
It is estimated that one in every four children in the United States live in a household with an alcoholic adult. This in itself is a problem. But when nearly one-half of all proven cases of child neglect and abuse involve parental alcohol or drug use, these statistics become even more alarming.
But these aren’t just statistics, they are children. Our children, including Cindy, are suffering from what some call a hidden epidemic of child abuse, maltreatment, and neglect.
In this country, a report of child abuse is made every ten seconds. In the time you have taken to read this article, at least three more cases of abuse and neglect will be reported. Chaotic environments, where substance abuse and child maltreatment are present, hinder a child’s development and emotional well-being. Their need for emotional bonding, supervision, and nurturing, are taking a back seat to a parent’s need to obtain, use, or recover from drugs and alcohol.
This stress and trauma contributes to the youth’s own use of substances, either because they are mimicking the behaviors of their parents or because they use substances to cope with their situation.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a child whose parents abuse alcohol and other drugs is three times more likely to be abused and more than four times more likely to be neglected than a child from a non-abusing family.
Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across varied cultural and ethnic lines, within all religions, and at all levels of education. The cycle of abuse, neglect, and substance use has long-term consequences and continues as our youth become adults and parents.