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Anyone can help prevent child abuse

April 03, 2014

During National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April and throughout the year, Baystate Children’s Hospital encourages all individuals and organizations to play a role in making Western Massachusetts a better place for children and families.

“Child abuse is common, bad for children, and continues to have negative effects when these abused children grow up to be adults,” said Dr. Stephen Boos, medical director, Family Advocacy Center, part of Baystate Children’s Hospital.

A nation-wide issue

The federal government releases statistics each year collected from state Child Protective Services around the country. According to the most recent figures available for 2012, nearly 1% of U.S. children and 2% of U.S. infants were found to be abused or neglected. But another government study, one that does not rely on state agencies, finds that twice as many children are harmed and nearly five times as many children were endangered by child abuse and neglect.

“This adds up to a staggering four million children each year,” said Dr. Boos.

Breaking the cycle of abuse

By ensuring that parents have the knowledge, skills, and resources they need to care for their children, we can help promote children’s social and emotional well-being and prevent child maltreatment within families and communities, noted Dr. Boos.

For the past few years, much attention has been placed on what is called “toxic stress.” A study called the Adverse Child Experiences (ACE) Study has shown that childhood abuse causes serious problems which last long into adulthood. Dr. Boos said it should be no surprise that mental conditions such as depression and anxiety are higher in these children who are now adults. But, ACE also found that obesity, heart disease, lung disease, liver disease and many other chronic health conditions are higher among them, too. And adults who were abused may even have changes in their hormonal and immunological systems. Even the genes of a victim can be changed. These changes can be passed on to their children.

“Therefore, if you grew up with child abuse, you should let your medical provider know. Dealing with this may be important to managing your health problems,” said Dr. Boos, who also has a message for providers offering care.

“If you are a clinician caring for adults with chronic health complaints, take the time to read the ACE papers, ask the ACE questions, and provide care for these unseen injuries,” he added.

In response to the existence of child abuse, whether physical, sexual or emotional, Dr. Boos suggested as a community three things must be accomplished.

“We want to raise resilient children. Resiliency is the ability to thrive after bad things happen to you. And, we want to prevent child abuse of any type along with domestic violence, too,” said Dr. Boos.

Six Protective Factors

Research has found that successful child abuse interventions must both reduce risk factors and promote protective factors to ensure the well-being of children and families – factors that involve helping parents who might otherwise be at risk of abusing their children to find resources, supports, or coping strategies that allow them to parent effectively, even under stress.

Research shows that when parents possess six protective factors, the risk for neglect and abuse diminish and optimal outcomes for children, youth, and families are promoted. The six protective factors are:

  • Nurturing and attachment
  • Knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development
  • Parental resilience
  • Social connections
  • Concrete supports for parents
  • Social and emotional developmental well-being.

“We want to be sensitive to and able to identify any possible abuse circumstances as soon as possible, so as to put an end to them and begin appropriate treatment. If you are facing a child who may have been abused, whether that child is asking you for help, you are a juror at a trial, or you are a clinician trying to understand a child’s injuries, keep in mind that abuse is common and can occur anywhere. Your willingness to believe may be critical to that child’s safety,” said Dr. Boos.

Getting Help

The Family Advocacy Center of Baystate Children's Hospital is a nationally accredited Child Advocacy Center serving children, families and communities of Western Massachusetts affected by child abuse and/or domestic violence. As child abuse and domestic violence are community problems, the Family Advocacy Center coordinates child abuse and domestic violence services with numerous community partners. Staffed by physicians, psychologists, social workers, volunteers, and advocates, the center offers a variety of support including counseling, medical services, support programs, advocacy programs and victim services.

If you suspect that a child is being abused, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).

To make an appointment for therapy services at the Family Advocacy Center at Baystate Children’s Hospital, call 413-794-5555. For other services or information on the Family Advocacy Center, call 413-794-9816.