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Billy's Story - Help Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

When 11-year-old Billy came to The Genesis Project a few years ago, he appeared awkward in his appearance and wouldn't look anyone in the eye. He didn’t speak much and seemed to live in his own little world. Before he arrived, we wondered how he would behave. He had a lower-than-average I.Q. and unusual sensory needs. For some reason, he found satisfaction in tearing sheets of paper into tiny shreds.

Despite working with many children who have been abused and/or neglected, our seasoned staff was still caught off guard when we learned Billy had been forced to live in a cage.

It is not difficult to see what extreme abuse and neglect can do to a child. From lack of trust, feelings of being “worthless,” and trouble regulating emotions, scars from abuse may last a lifetime.

In Oklahoma, child abuse is legally defined as intentional or malicious harm to a child, either threatened or actual. It is also failing to protect a child from real or threatened harm to their health, safety, or welfare. It can also be intentionally or maliciously injuring, torturing, or maiming a child (Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 843.5).

It’s difficult to think about the magnitude of abuse in our state. Statistics from the Department of Human Services show 22,490 children were neglected, abused, or sexually abused in fiscal year 2021. Neglect makes up most of the cases (86 percent) followed by abuse (nine percent) then sexual abuse (nearly five percent).

The Genesis Project is a Level E facility, as determined by DHS, the most restrictive environment for a child unless he goes into an inpatient setting. We are the only Level E facility in Oklahoma to serve the most aggressive and impulsive boys, ages six to 12.

The average boy comes to our facility after failing foster care placements 13 times. His behavior needs a lot of work.

The saddest thing about Billy’s situation and these facts is that they all could have been prevented.

As we observe child abuse awareness week, we encourage you to take time to learn how to spot child abuse, neglect and sexual abuse., an independent nonprofit that runs one of the world’s leading mental health websites, has a robust section on abuse and prevention, including ways to identify the types of abuse and neglect.

Emotional Abuse. The child may:

  • Be excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong
  • Show extremes in behavior (extremely compliant, demanding, passive, aggressive).
  • Not seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver
  • Act either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums).

Warning Signs of Physical Abuse. The child may:

  • Have frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts. Their injuries may appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt
  • Be always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen
  • Shy away from touch, flinch at sudden movements, or seem afraid to go home
  • Wear inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot day

Warning Signs of Child Neglect. The child may:

  • Wear ill-fitting, filthy, or inappropriate clothing for the weather
  • Have consistently bad hygiene (unbathed, matted and unwashed hair, noticeable body odor)
  • Have untreated illnesses and physical injuries
  • Be frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations
  • Be frequently late or missing from school

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children. The child may:

  • Have trouble walking or sitting
  • Display knowledge of sexual acts inappropriate for their age, or even exhibit seductive behavior
  • Make strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason
  • Not want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities
  • Have an STD or pregnancy, especially if they’re under the age of 14.

If you suspect child abuse, call the Oklahoma Statewide Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1 -800-522-3511. To help our efforts at The Genesis Project, please donate online.

Eventually, we were able to help Billy form relationships with his caregivers and then build trust through a trauma-informed approach to help him succeed. He is now living elsewhere and will deal with the effects of trauma his entire life.

For much more information, including recognizing abusive behavior in yourself and breaking the cycle of abuse, please visit: