Taking A Stand Against Child Abuse

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The statistics are sobering.

Last year, more than 66,000 Texas children became victims of child abuse and neglect, according to the latest report from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The Houston area alone counted more than 6,000 victims, the agency found.

And the consequences are dire. Survivors of maltreatment face lifelong emotional, social and physical scars, but for others, the abuse and neglect can be fatal. A total of 171 Texas children died last year at the hands of their abusers.

As Texas continues to grapple with the problem of child abuse and neglect, the disturbing data underscores just how much work still needs to be done to prevent child maltreatment. On Friday, April 8, a team of physicians, medical professionals, community advocates and others gathered at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital to commemorate Child Abuse Prevention Month, raise awareness about a preventable problem and honor the children evaluated and cared for at the hospital each year.

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“Our expert teams unfortunately see this reality every day,” said Susie Distefano, senior vice president and CEO of Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. “Each year, we treat more than 800 victims of child abuse and neglect, a heart-breaking and staggering statistic. That’s why we have been working hard alongside our community partners to help eradicate the scourge of child abuse. Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and its esteemed allies in the community have long been at the forefront of encouraging child abuse prevention through an array of partnerships and programs.”

The theme of this year’s Child Abuse Prevention Day ceremony was “Be the Solution.” Child maltreatment is a complicated problem, associated with a number of risk factors including parental depression, substance abuse, stress, spousal abuse and lack of access to healthy food, among other factors. As part of a statewide effort to curtail child abuse among the youngest victims, Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, Memorial Hermann Texas Trauma Institute and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth  are teaming up to provide physicians with an evidence-based solution to help them identify families at high risk for child maltreatment and offer early intervention.

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Rebecca Girardet, M.D., director of the Division of Child Protection Pediatrics at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and McGovern Medical School, announced the new program at Friday’s ceremony.

“Health care institutions play a key role in the prevention of child maltreatment, particularly for kids under the age of 5 because they regularly visit the doctor for routine well-child checkups and other appointments in the early years of their lives,” she said. “This new initiative allows providers to identify specific factors related to child abuse and neglect, and help prevent abuse before it happens by connecting parents to much-needed resources in the community.”

The program is the latest effort by Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and UTHealth to combat maltreatment. Other efforts include screening new mothers for postpartum depression and the Period of PURPLE Crying®, an educational program that utilizes positive messaging with the aim to prevent shaken baby syndrome by helping parents and caregivers understand the frustrating features of crying in normal infants that can lead to shaking or abuse.

“Child abuse is a difficult topic to discuss, but it’s critically important that we do everything we can to take a stand against these heinous acts,” Dr. Girardet said at Friday’s ceremony. “While today is a sobering reminder that far too many children continue to fall victim to abuse and neglect, we at UTHealth and Memorial Hermann remain diligent and committed to doing everything we can to stop maltreatment before it ever occurs.”

For more information about child abuse prevention, please visit childrens.memorialhermann.org/capm.

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Tashika Varma