(Joplin, MO) – April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month, recognizing the importance of families and communities working together to strengthen families and prevent child abuse and neglect. Although accidents do happen when children play, sometimes bruises or broken bones can be a sign of abuse. Pediatricians are in a unique position to identify and prevent child abuse. Dr. Amanda Dickerson, a pediatrician at Freeman Health System’s Children’s Clinic is a collaborating physician for the Children’s Center of Southwest Missouri, a nonprofit organization serving victims of physical and sexual child abuse.
“Nationally, at least one in seven children have experienced child abuse or neglect in the last year,” said Dr. Dickerson. “Pediatricians can help with identifying abused children with suspicious injuries who are present for care, reporting suspected abuse to Child Protective Services (CPS) for investigation, and supporting families who are affected by child abuse.”
Identifying suspected abuse and reporting reasonable suspicions to CPS can be one of the most challenging and difficult responsibilities for the pediatrician. Yet, early identification and intervention to protect abused children has the potential to stop the abuse, secure the child’s safety, and mitigate toxic stress in victims. And in some cases, early recognition of abuse can be lifesaving.
“Our role as pediatricians is to support families,” said Dr. Beth Garrett, Freeman’s Children’s Clinic. “Abuse is more likely when families are under stress. When we can put supports in place like WIC or Parents as Teachers, that helps. I think we also have to let them know that it is okay to ask for help. Freeman pediatricians now have Alexa McNeely, a community health worker, to whom we can refer patients, and she will help with resources as well.”
The Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Annual Report for 2020 shows nearly 56,000 Children’s Division reports affecting more than 78,000 children with 47 fatalities. In Jasper County, those reports number 1,557 with one fatality.
Likewise, Missouri Child Advocacy Centers served more than 9,100 children in 2019. More than 6,000 children reported sexual abuse and 2,400 reported physical abuse.
Factors and characteristics placing a child at risk for maltreatment include a parent with:
- Low self-esteem
- Poor impulse control
- Substance or alcohol abuse
- Poor knowledge of child development
- Unrealistic expectations for the child
Environmental factors can also place a child at risk, including:
- Social isolation
- A single-parent household
- A home with a nonbiologically related male living there
- A home with intimate partner violence
Children who have emotional or behavioral difficulties, a chronic illness, developmental disabilities, or were an unplanned pregnancy are also considered at risk.
Additionally, pediatricians can also help by coordinating with other professionals and community agencies to provide immediate and long-term treatment to victimized children, offering court testimony, giving preventative care and anticipatory guidance in the office, and advocating for policies and programs that support families and protect vulnerable children.
About Freeman Health System
Locally owned, not-for-profit and nationally recognized, Freeman Health System includes Freeman Hospital West, Freeman Hospital East, Freeman Neosho Hospital and Ozark Center – the area’s largest provider of behavioral health services – as well as two urgent care clinics, dozens of physician clinics and a variety of specialty services. In 2020, Freeman earned dozens of individual awards for medical excellence and patient safety from CareChex®, a quality rating system that helps consumers evaluate healthcare providers. U.S. News & World Report named Freeman Health System the Best Hospital in Southwest Missouri for 2020-2021. With more than 320 physicians on staff representing more than 80 specialties, Freeman provides cancer care, heart care, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopaedics, children’s services and women’s services. Additionally, Freeman is the only Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in a 70-mile radius. For more information, visit freemanhealth.com.
Lisa Olliges, Marketing and Media Relations Coordinator
Freeman Health System