By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A study done in July last year concludes that child abuse and neglect "is a pervasive and serious issue" both on the Big Island and statewide.
The study, "Perceptions of Child Abuse and Neglect in Hawaii," found that 47 percent of Hawaii County residents say they know a victim of child abuse. It also found that 89 percent of Big Islanders believe child abuse is a major problem.
"It was pretty shocking, actually," said Paul Normann, director of the Neighborhood Place of Puna, a child abuse and neglect prevention program in Pahoa.
Eighty-eight percent of Big Islanders polled said they would be more likely to report suspected abuse if they could do so anonymously.
"You can report child abuse and neglect anonymously already," Normansaid
The study also found that 78 percent of Big Islanders polled believe, erroneously, that the person who reports to CWS will probably end up being involved in the case.
"You don't have to be involved; you're not going to be dragged in," Normann said. "Nobody's going to find out and nobody's going to tell the family or person in question, 'Well, Joe down the block reported you.' There is a big amount of misinformation out there. People just really don't know what reporting involves."
Other findings on the Big Island include 54 percent of respondents don't want to get involved in other people's business, including child abuse issues. More than four in ten say fear of reprisals from parents prevent reporting, while almost one in ten think it's not their responsibility. Two in 10 Big Island adults report that they were abused as children — the highest rate in the state.
The study also found that 77 percent of Big Island residents believe there are times that spanking is OK to discipline a child.
"What I've seen is that corporal punishment is not an effective discipline," Normann said. "There are more effective ways to discipline a child. There's a difference between discipline and punishment. Spanking is punishment, it's not discipline."
The Hawaii Children's Trust Fund and Joyful Heart Foundation, the organizations that commissioned the study, are partnering with local organizations to educate residents that child abuse and neglect are preventable.
"The results of this research clearly demonstrated a critical need for increased public education about the prevalence and signs of child abuse and neglect as well as how bystanders can intervene to help keep children safe," Maile Zambuto, Joyful Heart's chief executive officer, said in a written statement.
Their statewide public awareness campaign, called "One Strong 'Ohana" will integrate print, electronic and social media to promote the idea that prevention of child abuse and neglect is a community responsibility and that individuals can, in simple ways, make a difference in creating a safe and nurturing environment for Hawaii's keiki.
Aileen Deese, Chairperson of the Hawaii Children's Trust Fund Advisory Committee and Program Director of Prevent Child Abuse Hawaii, said the campaign theme "was born out of the deep-rooted belief we all share here in Hawaii — that we are all part of one 'ohana."
"Through this campaign, we hope to increase awareness that there are simple ways to reach out and be there for a family, such as bringing a meal or offering child care," she said.
Department of Human Services statistics for 2009 show that there were 7.2 confirmed reports of child abuse and neglect per 1,000 children ages 0-17 statewide. The Big Island report rate was 9.9 per 1,000, the state's highest.
Normann says that on the Big Island, especially in Puna, poverty and isolation are factors that play a big role in parenting difficulties which could lead to abuse.
"If we really want to stop child abuse and neglect, we can do that, as a community," he said. "We can do that by getting involved and by offering our help to families, to parents, when they're stressed out and having difficulties. Don't let them suffer alone. Offer rides; offer a meal. Be a little bit more active as a citizen and reach out to families, to parents, to single parents who seem to be having a rough time of it."
The Neighborhood Place of Puna's services are free and voluntary to Puna families who need help. Call 965-5550.
Anyone who suspects a child is being abused or neglected can call a state hotline run by Child Welfare Services at 1-800-494-3991, anonymously and toll-free.
On the Internet: http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org/hawaii_can_report.htm
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.