Look for Warning Signs to Prevent Child Abuse
Children’s Hospital & Medical Center and Project Harmony join with families and communities across the country in marking April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. While there appears to be an overall decline in abuse nationwide, there has been an increase in abusive head trauma, formerly known as Shaken Baby Syndrome.
“Locally, we have seen a slight decrease in non-accidental trauma. However, we find it disturbing to see that the most severe injuries, abusive head trauma, have risen from previous years,” says Suzanne Haney, MD, medical director of the Children’s Advocacy Team and Project Harmony in Omaha.
In 2011, 30 children were admitted to Children’s Hospital & Medical Center for treatment of injuries related to non-accidental trauma or abuse. The number was just slightly higher in 2010 with 32 children requiring hospitalization. Three children over the course of these two years did not survive their injuries. All three suffered abusive head trauma.
“This is a leading cause of death in instances of abuse,” says Dr. Haney.
Many more children suffer physical and emotional injuries that do not require hospital care. Project Harmony helps approximately 2,200 children and teenagers each year as they deal with the aftermath of physical or sexual abuse, or neglect.
A non-profit organization based in Omaha, Project Harmony is focused on tending to a child’s emotional and physical needs as law enforcement proceeds with an investigation.
“Talking about abuse can be very difficult. No one wants to acknowledge that it happens, but we have to be aware, and we have to help educate families if we want to make a difference,” says Dr. Haney.
A number of risk factors can increase the potential for abuse:
- • Mental health problems
- • Substance abuse
- • Very young parental age
- • Lack of understanding about how to care for a child
- • Lack of empathy for the child
- • Lack of bonding with the child
- • Poor coping skills, a sense of feeling overwhelmed
- • Family stress
Dr. Haney says it’s normal for parents to become frustrated from time to time. After all, raising a child is a challenging job. But, she points out, it is not normal to step over the line.
“Parents and caregivers should not be afraid to ask for help from other family members or friends. Additionally, support your loved ones and check on them, especially if they’ve been stressed or overwhelmed. These social connections can help prevent what could be a catastrophic moment for everyone involved,” she says.
Dr. Suzanne Haney is the only board-certified child abuse specialist in Nebraska. She serves as medical director for Project Harmony and the Children’s Advocacy Team at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. She is also an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Creighton University Medical Center.