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Recognizing and Preventing Child Abuse
last updated:
Wed, 1/30/2013 2:39 PM

Meet Dr. Karen Lakin, director of Le Bonheur’s Child Assessment Program (CAP), which evaluates children entering our hospital who are possible victims of child abuse and neglect. Patients are referred to CAP by physicians and social workers in the hospital who are concerned that a child’s current injuries may be the result of maltreatment. When children are referred, the team performs medical and psychosocial assessments of those children and their families. Dr. Lakin is a critical component to this program and a well-known expert in her field. While we understand this is a very tough subject, we also want to encourage our readers to educate themselves on this important issue. Dr. Lakin talks about recognizing and preventing child abuse in today’s post. Here’s what she had to say.

"All too frequently we read a headline in the paper or hear a report on the evening news detailing an account of a horrific case of child abuse, sometimes ending with the death of a child. We find ourselves asking each other, “Did you hear about that young child who was murdered?”  “How could that monster rape those children?”  “Didn’t anyone notice the poor child was being abused?” 

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were concerned that a child was being abused?  You must first recognize the signs of abuse in order to help a child. Child abuse comes in many forms: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.  Some types of abuse leave obvious signs, while other signs are more subtle.  Often, the various types of abuse overlap.  A physically abused child may also be neglected and not have medical needs addressed by the caregiver. A sexually abused child may also be emotionally abused by the predator.

Signs of physical child abuse include injuries that are inconsistent with the explanation. A child may suffer from recurring injuries or repeated trips to the emergency room. Injuries blamed on behaviors that are inconsistent for the child’s age are suspicious for abuse. A caregiver may give different stories to explain an injury. 

Signs of sexual abuse may be more difficult to notice. These include sophisticated sexual knowledge or behavior in a young child. A sudden change in sleep patterns, nightmares, bedwetting or physical complaints like headaches and stomach aches are also warning signs. Physical symptoms may include frequent urinary tract infections or contraction of sexually transmitted diseases. Often, a child may disclose a sexual abuse incident to an adult. Sometimes this may be the only sign, therefore all accounts should be taken very seriously.

Emotionally abused children are often belittled or berated. They may be ignored by the caregiver or treated poorly in comparison to siblings. Neglected children may be unkempt, malnourished or frequently unsupervised. In this particular situation of abuse, a child’s medical, educational and physical needs may not be provided by caregivers.

Child abuse is a difficult subject for everyone and many people are confused about reporting it.  Fear creates barriers to reporting.  We may be reluctant to become involved if we don’t know the child. We may fear breaking up a model family, that no one will believe us or get in trouble for reporting abuse if it is unfounded. 

Reporting child abuse may save a child’s life and is a person’s moral responsibility. In Tennessee, as in most states, reporting abuse is also a legal responsibility.  All persons, including doctors, mental health professionals, child care providers, schools, dentists, family members and friends must report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect. Failure to report child abuse or neglect is a violation of the law in Tennessee."

To report Child Abuse or Neglect you may contact your local law enforcement agency and in the following states contact the child abuse hotlines:

Tennessee 1- 877-237-0004   or https://reportabuse.state.tn.us/
Arkansas 1-800-482-5964
Mississippi 1-800-222-8000 or https://www.msabusehotline.mdhs.ms.gov/

In the event of an immediate life threatening emergency, call 911.


never enough said on this incredibly important topic... thanks dr. lakin, and Le Bonheur, for refocusing attention on this key issue. it is EVERYONE'S responsibility to be educated, raise awareness, and speak out, speak up, and take action if you suspect child abuse or neglect.

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Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center is a leading children's hospital in the Mid South, providing pediatric care to children from 95 counties in six states.
50 N. Dunlap Street, Memphis, Tennessee 38103 • (901) 287-KIDS