By Dr. Melissa Currie and Dr. Christina Howard
It’s finally Fall in the Commonwealth, which means cooler temperatures, leaves changing, and college football season. As child abuse pediatricians at University of Kentucky and University of Louisville, we are well aware of the deep rivalry when it comes to our sports programs, and we both proudly support our team.
As competitive as our respective universities are, there is one issue we must come together on that requires strategic offense and stellar defense, especially if we are to ever lose our disappointing rank as number one in the nation – child abuse and neglect.
In 2018, 24,066 Kentucky children were victims of abuse or neglect. That’s 24,066 too many children suffering. And we know that due to underreporting, that number is actually an undercount of child victims.
And just recently, a report from the Department for Community Based Services highlighted that children 4 years and under make up 85 percent of the child fatality and near fatality victims in the Commonwealth.
We must confront the stats on child fatalities and our number one ranking of child victims of abuse and neglect and work to instead become number one in keeping kids safe. All Kentuckians – yes, that means Cardinals and Wildcats – must work together to meet the goal.
To excel, a team must prioritize both offense and defense. The Kosair Charities® Face It® Movement sees addressing the child abuse epidemic in Kentucky much in the same way.
There must not only be a strong commitment to identifying and reporting child abuse, but also a comprehensive strategy to prevent maltreatment from ever happening in the first place.
When it comes to keeping kids safe, building a strong community and supporting parents is key.
The data tells us that children are the most vulnerable in their first years of life.
New parents, especially, look to their circle for advice on which diapers to buy, which stroller is best, and how to choose a safe, quality childcare provider. Let’s also offer parents opportunities to practice self-care, arrange for time away from the baby to enjoy a dinner out or just to shower or nap while ensuring they know it is okay to need that time, provide credible resources for when they can’t get the baby to sleep or to stop crying, and reassurance that they can do this.
Even if we don’t know the parent, offering a nod of reassurance when the baby is crying in the grocery store can go a long way for an overwhelmed caregiver.
Additionally, continued support of programs like Kentucky’s HANDS home-visiting program is critical to ensuring parents have the knowledge and tools needed to succeed. Know a new or expecting parent? Connect them with the free service through Family and Children’s Place in Louisville or your local health department.
Parents can thrive when they feel supported and equipped.
A strong offense needs a strong defense, especially when it comes to ending any ongoing suffering a child is experiencing.
The key plays for a strong defense against the epidemic of child abuse are equipping adults with the knowledge to recognize maltreatment and to report to Child Protective Services.
All Kentucky adults are mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect. If you’re not sure how to recognize maltreatment, be sure to check out Face It’s several resources on the signs of abuse.
One easy-to-remember tool is the TEN-4 Bruising Rule. Kids are kids, and sometimes they get minor cuts and bruises on bony areas of the body, like knees and foreheads. However, there are signs that should be red flags for possible abuse. For children 4 years of age or younger, bruising on the Torso, Ears, or Neck, or any bruising anywhere on a baby not yet pulling up or taking steps, is cause for concern and must be reported.
On October 4th, we were proud to have a proclamation from Governor Bevin, Mayor Fischer, and Mayor Gorton declaring it TEN-4 Day – a strong commitment from our leaders that the safety of our kids is top priority. On that day, dozens of social workers, health professionals, educators, and other concerned community members in Louisville and Lexington were trained on this important rule, among other prevention and recognition techniques.
If you notice suspicious bruising or behavior that suggests abuse or neglect, make the report to 1-877-KYSAFE1. That one call could end the child’s suffering.
Keeping kids safe is an adult responsibility that spans all professions and caregiver status. It’s a responsibility that we must all take to heart and play our important part in offense and defense.
In this season of rivalries, we’re asking – no, pleading – that Cardinals and Wildcats, Republicans and Democrats, and concerned community members across the Commonwealth band together to ensure all Kentucky kids have the chance to grow up safe, healthy, and joyful.
Melissa 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. Christina Howard, MD, FAAP is Chief of the Division of Pediatric Forensic Medicine at Kentucky Children’s Hospital. Both serve as key partners in the Kosair Charities Face It Movement. Learn more at the website.