When you look into the eyes of a child, the innocence and wonder can pierce your soul. Children are young and often susceptible to influence of others. When you gaze into their eyes, it may be hard to fathom how […]
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The Chilling Reality of Child Abuse

by Jill Taylor on October 1, 2013

in Community Information

abuseWhen you look into the eyes of a child, the innocence and wonder can pierce your soul. Children are young and often susceptible to influence of others. When you gaze into their eyes, it may be hard to fathom how anyone could cause them harm.

However, the reality is every day children are abused, neglected and mistreated. This is a topic that must be addressed openly to educate the community, parents, caregivers and our children.

According to the Children’s Advocacy Center of Central Texas, every 10 seconds a child is victimized by abuse or neglect. In 2010, Texas had 207,965 total referrals for child abuse and neglect. Here at McLane Children’s Scott & White, nearly 50-60 cases are seen every month.

“People often assume that child maltreatment is limited to a specific subset of the population,” says  Erica Ward, MD, with the Pediatric Forensic Medicine Team at McLane Children’s Child Abuse Support Center. “Child abuse is seen in all socioeconomic levels, races and genders,” she adds.

What is Child Abuse?

  • Sexual abuse is when a child is used to meet and abusers’ own sexual needs.
  • Physical abuse is when a child is inflicted physical injury, non-accidentally.
  • Emotional abuse is when there is a chronic or persistent act that endangers the mental health or emotional development of the child.
  • Severe Neglect includes long periods without supervision, abandonment or other cases of being left unattended.

It is critical for parents to understand that almost 96% of children victimized by abuse know their offender. That means less than 4% of children are victimized by a stranger. Both have devastating consequences.

What are the Signs of Child Abuse?

“It is important to educate the community on the signs of child abuse and what to do if they suspect a child is being abused or neglected,” says Dr. Ward. “This would include an understanding of what resources are available in our community in addition to medical treatment,” says Dr. Ward.

One With Courage is a national initiative centered around the courage it takes to talk about child sexual abuse and explains five signs to look for:

  1. Unexplained injuries or visible signs of burns, bruises in the shape of objects or unconvincing stories.
  2. A change in child’s behavior often scared, anxious, withdrawn or more aggressive. Some may fear of going places where they are being abused or fear going home.
  3. Changes in eating or sleeping, due to fear and anxiety, or lack of personal hygiene if neglected.
  4. Inappropriate risk-taking behaviors like drugs, alcohol or inappropriate sexual behaviors.
  5. Changes in school performance or attendance to hide injuries.

How is a Case of Child Abuse Determined?

Dr. Ward works with a team of highly trained staff to protect children from abuse. “I feel passionate about helping our children when they cannot help themselves and protecting them from further harm,” says Dr. Ward.

The evaluation of potential child abuse or neglect is through a very thorough and methodical process that is tailored to the specific needs of each child and their family.

Wrongly Accused?

“We work hard to treat everyone equally throughout the process of evaluating and treating the child,” says Dr. Ward.

Because child abuse can be hidden, silent or hard to detect, medical professionals do their best to accurately diagnose child abuse cases. A parent could feel devastated if they are brought into question, however, all investigation is for the safety of the child and well-being of the family.

“I am also dedicated to supporting families in times when they may have been falsely accused of abuse,” says Dr. Ward.

In the case of child abuse, there are many opportunities to discuss the situation, provide evidence and work through the issue to make sure all parties are properly evaluated.

How Can We Help the Children?

One of the most important things we can do is to educate ourselves. Talk to your children about their interactions with others, and stay aware of the world around us.

For treatment, Dr. Ward works to evaluate each child with a systematic approach, including an interview and medical evaluation.

After assessing the child’s needs, the team will offer community resources such as a referral to the Children’s Advocacy Center in Belton, or family/child counseling as needed. If the child has sustained physical injuries, further evaluation and treatment are pursued.

“We are fortunate in our community to have a very skilled group of forensic nurses covering our hospital system and regional area 24 hours per day, seven days per week to help children, families and medical staff to evaluate children for potential physical or sexual abuse,” says Dr. Ward.

If you’re interested in more resources about child abuse, visit the McLane Children’s Scott & White Child Abuse Support Center.

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