Education is the biggest key to prevention, Frazier said.
There is a statewide effort to educate parents, day care workers and other caregivers on the dangers of abuse. In 2010, Kentucky was ranked 8th in the number of deaths related to child abuse. Anywhere from 30 to 40 children die each year from abuse, and there are another 40 to 50 near deaths.
Many area hospitals offer valuable classes and literature on topics such as “What to do for a persistently crying baby,” which include tips such as deep breathing, counting to 10, leaving the child safely in his crib while the parent steps out of the room to calm down for a few moments, and taking turns trying to soothe the child with your partner or trusted relative. Research has shown a 47 percent reduction in abusive head trauma with these educational programs in place, Frazier said.
“Having unrealistic expectations can increase frustration for the caregiver,” Frazier noted.
It is very important for parents and caregivers to have realistic expectations through a basic understanding of childhood developmental stages. For example, crying is normal in young babies and is also usually a daily part of toddlerhood. Most children do not gain the ability to stop crying on demand until at least 4 years of age or even older. It is normal to feel frustrated when a child cries – but no one should ever shake or hit a baby or young child. Also, many abusive events with toddlers occur in response to toilet training accidents. But, it is important to remember that most children are not fully potty-trained until after 3 years of age, and even after that accidents are normal and common, Frazier said. And finally, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend any physical discipline (even spanking) at any age.
Everyone can support the prevention of child abuse by knowing the early warning signs and offering a helping hand. Bruising or burns are important early warning signs for child abuse for infants and children. For a non-mobile infant, bruising of any kind is not normal. For a child of any age, bruising to the ears, neck, torso, buttocks or genitals should raise concerns. If you see bruising or any other concerning signs of injury on a child, seek immediate medical attention.
And finally, raising children can be difficult, even for the calmest of caregivers. So if you have experience and skill in caring for babies or young children, you may offer to provide a few hours of child care to friends or family members in need of a break.
For more resources about child abuse prevention, contact Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky at (800) CHILDREN, or Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky.
(Some information provided by: The Partnership to Eliminate Child Abuse, a joint effort of UofL Pediatrics – Forensic Medicine; Kosair Children’s Hospital; Kentucky Children’s Hospital; University of Kentucky Department of Pediatrics; and University of Pikeville Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine.)
Editor’s Note: UofL Today reprints To Your Health from the “ULP Insider” newsletter. Read the entire April issue (opens as a PDF document).