We all have the responsibility to report abuse

The local news reports continue:

Jan. 31 – Sebastian Pegues Convicted in Beating Death of 3-month-old Daughter

Feb. 19 – Father, Home Health Care Worker Charged with Murder in 12 Year-Old Child’s Death

Feb. 21 – Father Gets 15 Years for Attack on Baby Son

Feb. 28 – Man Sentenced to 20 Years for Sexual Battery of Child

March 7 – Boyfriend Indicted in Baby’s Death

It is apparent from the headlines, 2014 has begun with too many reminders of just how significant the problem of child abuse is in the Mid South. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Dr. Karen Lakin, the medical director of the Le Bonheur CARES* team, wants to remind us of the role we have in protecting the children in our community. Here are Dr. Lakin’s thoughts:

What can we do to prevent child abuse?

First, we must recognize the problem. Child abuse comes in many forms:

  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • emotional abuse
  • 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.

Types of Abuse

Symptoms

Physical Abuse Unexplained injuries, sever injuries with in significant
history of truma
Sexual Abuse Genital symptoms, age inappropriate sexual behavior
or knowledge, sexually transmitted diseases
Neglect Failure to Thrive, Poor hygiene, Lack of Medical Care
or Compliance
Emotional Anxiety, Aggression, Depression

We must also recognize risk factors that make a child vulnerable to abuse. This includes immature parents that may lack adequate parenting skills. A lack of understanding of normal child development and behavior. Stress including poverty, unemployment, relationship problems and housing instability.

Domestic Violence, substance abuse and mental illness are also well known risk factors for abuse.

Factors have also been identified that are known to prevent and reduce child abuse and neglect: parental resilience, nurturing and attachment, social connections, knowledge about parenting and child development, social and emotional competence of children, and support for parents.

What efforts can be made to prevent abuse?

Individually, connect with the children in your life. As a parent, friend or other family member, be supportive of a child and take time to listen to them. Really engage with them at their level and let them know they are valued and important.Be supportive of other parents and caregivers. Lead by example to younger, less experienced parents. Offer to assist a parent in need of childcare in an emergency. At a community level, participate in activities with children that promote child well-being. Be vocal regarding your communities response to children exposed to violence. Stay informed and support legislative efforts that address that affect children and families including economic issues, safety, housing and education.

Finally, if you suspect a child is being abused, report it. 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

Arkansas 1-800-482-5964

Mississippi 1-800-222-8000

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

*The CARES team at Le Bonheur evaluates children entering our hospital who are possible victims of child abuse and neglect. Patients are referred to CARES 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.

abuse, development, safety