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Children can’t protect themselves | Currie

This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Courier Journal on April 10, 2017.

By Dr. Melissa Currie

As a medical professional and member of the Face It Movement to end child abuse, I’d like to offer some practical information during April’s Child Abuse Prevention Month.  All members of our community can play a role in keeping children safe.

While child abuse can be associated with substance abuse, untreated mental health issues, domestic violence, and unrealistic expectations of a child’s development, it is critical to understand that the absence of those risk factors does not ensure a child’s safety. The reality is, child abuse can happen in any home. It can and does happen in “nice families.”

Recently, in testimony to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, mother Lori Brent shared her story of learning that her then four-month-old son had two broken bones as a result of an abusive babysitter. She explained, “Just because you’re happily married, have a college education, go to church, or eat family meals together does not exclude you from child abuse. Our family is proof that child abuse is real and can happen to anyone.” In the several years since her son was abused, Lori has partnered with the Face It Movement and worked in many ways to raise awareness around preventing and recognizing child abuse and neglect.

As a pediatrician who specializes in evaluating children who might have been victims of abuse, my colleagues and I continue to see countless heartbreaking examples of children who were badly injured and who—we later discovered—had family, friends, or professionals in their lives who noticed bruising or other problems, but failed to report their concerns to child protective services.

Please, if you see something, say something. You can be the difference between safety for a child versus an escalation of abuse that leads to serious physical injury—or even death.

Here are some physical and behavioral red flags that should never be ignored:

  • Any bruising of the Torso, Ears, or Neck in a child 4 years of age or younger (TEN-4 Rule), or any bruising of the buttocks or genitals
  • Any bruising, anywhere, on a baby who is not yet pulling up and taking steps while holding on to furniture or other objects
  • Unexplained or unusual injuries on children of any age
  • Verbal children who are unwilling to talk about how their injuries occurred
  • Sudden increase in aggression toward others, angry outbursts, and/or withdrawn behavior, particularly if it’s a new behavior
  • Not wanting to be alone with or fearful of particular individual(s)
  • Sudden decline in school performance
  • Difficulties with sleep or appetite that are otherwise unexplained
  • Stealing food, falling asleep in class, or wearing clothing that is inappropriate for the weather

Preventing child abuse is an adult responsibility. Children can’t protect themselves. They need all of us to watch out for them and step up to confront a situation or report suspected abuse when necessary—even if it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable.

Here are some practical tips to help prevent child abuse and neglect, whether you are a parent, community member, or professional who works with children:

  • Remember, crying is normal for babies. If you feel frustrated with an infant, it’s okay to leave the baby in a crib or safe place while you calm down. Crying does not hurt babies—but losing our tempers and shaking or otherwise harming them will.
  • Ensure your child knows to tell you about any adult or caregiver who asks them to keep a secret or suggests that they have a “special” relationship.
  • Offer to help parents of small children with errands or childcare, if you have that skill set.
  • When disciplining a child, know that spanking and other kinds of physical punishment doesn’t work over the long term and often leads to higher risks of aggressive behavior in children.  Instead, use redirection, positive reinforcement, time-outs, and removal of privileges to address inappropriate behaviors.
  • Co-sleeping is never recommended. Babies should sleep alone, on their backs, in a crib that is free of soft bedding or toys.
  • Report suspected abuse or neglect to the Cabinet at 1-877-KYSAFE1 or

Let’s be clear: the protection of children from maltreatment is everybody’s business. We can do better.  We must do better. Let’s face it and end it together.

Currie, Melissa MD '12 4x6Melissa L. Currie, MD, FAAP is Medical Director and Chief of the Kosair Charities® Division of Pediatric Forensic Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. She is a founding member of the Face It Movement to End Child Abuse.