Monday, April 15, 2013

Child Abuse Prevention Month

Pinwheels at the entrance of
Meritus Medical Center
     It’s a topic that hits the pit of your stomach. It’s tragic, horrifying and unthinkable. But we must think about child abuse and its presence in our community. “By raising awareness of the plight of child abuse and its effects, people will have the education to know how to respond to the signs of child abuse,” says Pam Holtzinger, coordinator for the forensic nursing program at Meritus Medical Center. Pam’s job is to evaluate child maltreatment patients at the hospital and train other healthcare providers to know the signs and report suspected child abuse cases. 

      Last week, staff at Meritus Medical Center placed nearly 1,600 pinwheels outside the hospital’s main entrance, each one symbolizing a reported case of child abuse in Washington County. While the actual number of child abuse victims is unknown, 700 more child abuse cases were reported in 2012. Pam says that number is encouraging because more people are reporting child abuse, which helps professionals intervene and prevent further abuse.

The abused and abusers
     A child can be abused physically, emotionally, sexually or by neglect. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, 81 percent of victims are maltreated by a parent. Men and women play a near-equal role in abusing children. “Child abuse isn’t limited to a neighborhood, gender or socio-economic class. It can run a broad spectrum,” emphasizes pediatrician and internist John Reed, M.D., Smithsburg Family Medical Center.

     Most of the time, kids know their abuser and the abuse occurs at home. While child abuse and neglect can happen to a child of any age, infants and toddlers are the most vulnerable. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 80 percent of children who die from abuse are younger than age four.

The roots of child abuse
     A family history of maltreatment, drug and alcohol use, lack of parenting skills, a merry-go-round of caregivers in the home and stress and/or a lack of support all contribute to a potentially abusive environment. Also at high risk are parents who are young, single, low income or who have many dependents, according to the CDC.

“Child abuse can often occur when adults are thin on resources, time and money,” says Dr. Reed.

Recognizing child abuse
     According to Dr. Reed, sudden changes in a child’s behavior can signal child maltreatment. “Look for children who go from happy to sad, outgoing to withdrawn or the child who makes comments above and beyond what is expected at that age.”

      Abused children can also act out, engage in risky behavior or have trouble developing and maintaining relationships. Kids with more frequent injuries (i.e. accident prone) should raise your antennae, says Dr. Reed. “If the story doesn’t seem to add up, that should tell you something.”

A neglected child may have poor hygiene, ill-fitting clothes and is often left alone without adult supervision or allowed to play in unsafe situations. A sexually abused child may have trouble sitting or walking, or show interest in sexual activity beyond his or her age.

What you can do
     “Offering to help is the best form of prevention,” says Dr. Reed. “If you suspect a parent is stressed out or having difficulties coping with parenthood, offer to babysit, listen to the parent’s concerns or suggest resources in the community. Simply offer to help and establish a relationship.”

     Contacting Child Protective Services is another way to intervene and remain anonymous. According to Pam, you only need a suspicion to report abuse. “Make the call and let the professionals evaluate it and help prevent any further abuse from happening.”

     Hospitals are safe havens for abused children. At Meritus Medical Center, forensic nurses are trained to read the signs of child abuse, ask the right questions and work with law enforcement and social services to place the child in a safe environment. Other resources within Washington County include:

Washington County Child Protective Services, 240-420-2222 (24-hour phone line).

Safe Place, the Washington County Child Advocacy Center, provides all reported victims of child sexual abuse in Washington County and their non-offending caretakers with comprehensive forensic interviews, medical treatment and mental health treatment. Contact Safe Place at 240-420-4308 or go to

Parent-Child Center helps parents become nurturing parents through a home-based parent aide program, mentoring opportunities, parenting classes, teen parenting support; and by providing clothing, home furnishings, diapers and formula. Contact the Parent-Child Center at 301-791-2224 or at

Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused, or CASA is a safe harbor for children, teenagers and adults in Washington County who have been affected by domestic violence, sexual assault or abuse and rape. CASA helps individuals survive abuse and establish a new and safe life by providing counseling, support groups, abuser intervention, legal services and workshops on parenting skills and other topics. Contact CASA at 301-739-4990 or at

The Washington County Board of County Commissioners proclaimed April 2013 as Child Abuse Prevention Month in Washington County. Their proclamation asks that all citizens become more aware of child abuse and its prevention within the community and support parents to raise their children in a safe, nurturing environment. From a person who is on the front lines of child and domestic abuse, Pam agrees. “It really does take a village to raise children, so we want everyone to be involved and to make a difference in the life of a child.” 

Pictured from R to L: Commissioner Jeff Cline, Jesus Cepero,  VP and CNO,
 Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham, and Pam Holtzinger

Meritus Health nurses in the Pinwheel Garden

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