This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Courier-Journal. You can view it online here.
By Dr. Melissa Currie, MD
As a pediatrician who specializes in evaluating children who may have been abused, I see firsthand the physical and emotional impact that abuse and neglect can have on children and their caregivers. I also see the impact that it has on the professionals, neighbors, and family members who interacted with the child, but who overlooked the early warning signs.
Often the signs of abuse may not be glaring. I was recently presenting a training session on recognizing the signs of child abuse for a room full of doctors who are likely to come in to contact with children in their regular workday. As the result of a law passed last year, doctors are now required to receive training on pediatric abusive head trauma and other forms of abuse. After the training, I had more than one physician approach me and confide that they had seen the telltale bruises on patients, but hadn’t realized that they were likely from abuse. This wasn’t a surprise: if we aren’t educated on how to spot the signs, we miss them.
Doctors aren’t the only professionals in Kentucky that are required to get training on the recognition of abuse. Law enforcement, front-line social workers, nurses, and child care workers are also professionals who are required to receive training to identify signs of child abuse, which makes sense due to their regular contact with children.
It is so important that professionals who interact with children know what to be aware of if they suspect abuse is occurring. Teachers do a great job of reporting child abuse and neglect in Kentucky. Educators nationally are one of the most frequent sources of reports of cases of child maltreatment. We also know that more than half of Kentucky’s confirmed victims of child maltreatment are school-aged, between 5-17 years old in 2012. Though educators are required to report child abuse, we hear from teachers who feel inadequately prepared to recognize subtle early warning signs of abuse so they know when they should report suspected child abuse.
Educators are one of the only groups of professionals who regularly interact with children that are not required to receive any training on the prevention and recognition of abuse and neglect. This is a significant missed opportunity in our efforts to eliminate child abuse and neglect. Even when children are taught ways to keep themselves safe from abuse, there is no substitute for adult responsibility. With most children spending many hours of their days in school, it is imperative that school personnel receive training on how to prevent, recognize, and report child abuse and neglect. Indeed, the educators themselves are asking for it.
That is why Republican Sen. Julie Raque Adams and Democratic Rep. Rita Smart are working together on a bi-partisan piece of legislation to ensure that those dedicated educators, who interact with so many children on a daily basis, are trained to recognize the signs of child abuse. The Kosair Charities Face It® movement to end child abuse and Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children are working with key education voices to ensure that the specifics of the legislation make sense to those in our school buildings.
Educational leaders, the medical community, and child advocates are ensuring that every public school educator in the Commonwealth is equipped and empowered to protect the children in his/her care. You can play a key role in protecting our children. As this legislation moves forward, ask your own state Representative and state Senator to support House Bill 301 and Senate Bill 119. Kentucky’s kids will win when the Senator Adams/Representative Smart proposal becomes a reality.
And if you suspect a child is being abused, report it to the state hotline at 1-877-597-2331, by fax at 502/595-0895 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Melissa Currie, MD, FAAP is a board-certified child abuse pediatrician and Medical Director and Chief of the Kosair Charities Division of Pediatric Forensic Medicine at the University of Louisville. She is a founding member of the Face It® movement to end child abuse.