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Reporting abuse is everyone's job

April 16, 2008
More than 110 people attended an event hosted by Prevent Child Abuse Crawford County to celebrate the community's children on Monday, April 7, at Hillview Christian Church near Marengo.

The annual event was held in recognition of April being National Prevent Child Abuse Month and featured Dr. Cindy Christian, a pediatrician from the Children's Hospital in Philadelphia as the evening's key note speaker.

Members of the Crawford County High School chapter of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America present a skit about how fragile babies are and how to deal with tempers and frustrations when babies seem to want or need more than a parent or caregiver knows how to give. (Photo by Lee Cable)
The evening began with an address by Crawford County Prosecutor Cheryl Hillenburg on child abuse in Indiana.

"Last year, 56 children died in Indiana because of abuse," Hillenburg said. "Way too many were the victims of blunt-force trauma. And 39 of those died in the child's own home. Five were at a babysitter's house. And 47 percent of the children who died, Child Protective Services had been involved in the family."

Hillenburg went on to give several tips on ways to keep children safe, including the use of proper safety seats, more careful medication practices, and intervention, saying that "everyone in this room is a mandated reporter of child abuse."

The Eckerty House of Prayer Youth Group then performed a song, "Jesus Loves the Little Children," followed by an informative skit by members of the Crawford County High School chapter of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America about how fragile babies are and how to deal with tempers and frustrations when babies seem to want or need more than a parent or caregiver knows how to give. Kirby Stailey performed two songs, including one that was assisted by vocalist Robin Brown.

Hillenburg then introduced Christian.

"I've been a pediatrician at The Children's Hospital in Philadelphia for almost 23 years," Christian said. "During my internship there, I had a wonderful mentor. He started a child abuse program there in the 1970s. After my internship, he asked me to take care of the child abuse program for one year."

But, according to Christian, after that first year, she was hooked, and has worked to reduce and prevent child abuse since.

"Pediatrician's patients are the most wonderful of all patients," she said, "but they are also the most challenging. Child abuse is a law enforcement problem, and it's also a public health problem."

Christian told the audience about a survey of thousands of adults who were asked questions about their experiences as children. The questions included inquiries about physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and other problems. The people who had experienced none of the abuses got a score of zero. The score went as high as seven for those who had experienced all forms of abuse.

"We noticed several things," Christian said. "As the abuse scores went up, the rate of smoking went up among the adults. Obesity went up. Drug and alcohol abuse went up, and so did cancer and heart disease. All due to child abuse."

Christian went on to say that in 1969 smoking was not considered a public health problem.

"And just five or six years ago, obesity wasn't considered a public health problem," she said. "Now, schools are changing the food that they serve to students. Trans-fats have been taken out of a lot of what we eat, just because obesity is now considered a public health problem. Maybe in the next 20 years, child abuse and neglect will gain recognition as a public health problem."

Child abuse is equal in all races and economic categories, Christian said.

"We find child abuse in poor families, but also in those who are better off," she continued. "In rural areas, it can be overwhelming. There's often too few resources. In cities, all resources are available, but there's overwhelming poverty. We all have to work together, in all areas, to figure out strategies."

Christian went on to talk about a program in rural upstate New York where a public health nurse was assigned to every pregnant girl.

"When every baby was born, a nurse came out, and concentrated on that child's well-being and development. Most of the women were on welfare, but the program worked and was expanded to the cities."

Some studies done later found that child abuse was lower in those families who were a part of that program.

"One neurosurgeon who was tired of the tremendous amount of head trauma, made parents watch a video on what happens when a baby is shaken," Christian said. "Then, he had the parents sign a pledge not to shake their baby. That helped reduce Shaken Baby Syndrome in that group by 47 percent."

"One of the most important things to remember," she continued. "Few parents think of themselves as abusive parents."

Christian was also the featured speaker at an all-day child abuse seminar the following day at the church.

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