Officials: Child abuse cases on rise

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By Sarah Bennett

In a 24-hour period last week, Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville treated four children in its intensive care unit for injuries caused by suspected abuse.

“Of the four cases that came in during that 24-hour period, we can define their age in months, not in years,” said Dr. Stephen Wright, the hospital’s medical director. “They were months old.”

Two of those infants were from Hardin County and one, 6-month-old Aleyah Noelle Williams of Elizabethtown, died from her injuries.

On Monday, Wright and child abuse pediatrician Dr. Melissa Currie spoke with local media groups about preventing and recognizing child abuse with infants — a meeting Wright said was spurred by the recent increase in treatment of “non-accidental trauma.”

About 10 years ago, Kosair started a child abuse task force, Wright said, and at that time, the hospital was treating about one abuse patient a month in its ICU.

Recently, that average has risen to one child abuse patient a week, he said.

Locally, three infants and a toddler were critically or fatally injured in incidents of child abuse during the first two months of the year.

In connection to those cases, six Hardin County parents’ charges ranging from first-degree wanton endangerment to murder. All of those arrested are younger than 25 years old.

According to Currie, the trend seen locally is not uncommon.

“We oftentimes assume the parents have the skills to cope with a crying baby when we really should be teaching that explicitly,” she said.

Children ages 4 and younger are at the highest risk for head trauma or fatal injuries because of child abuse, Currie said.

The first step in preventing that abuse, she said, is to avoid leaving the child with someone who doesn’t want to care for a crying baby.

“It’s important that we choose the caregivers of our children carefully,” Currie said. “Don’t leave the baby with someone who has anger issues, who has ever yelled or cursed at the baby, cursed at the mom or hurt mom.”

Wright and Currie stressed it is OK for a parent to leave the room or call a family member or friend for assistance if the crying becomes overwhelming.

“Any of us who care for young children should have a list of people that we can call for help should something happen, and that something can include just us becoming overwhelmed or frustrated,” Currie said. “That can be a challenge, especially for young parents, to understand.”

When it comes to recognizing child abuse, Currie said bruising in babies is not normal.

“If we see bruising in babies who are not mobile, who are not pulling up yet, it is an enormous red flag,” she said. “It needs to be brought to medical attention immediately.”

Asked why Kosair has seen an increase in child abuse victims being treated in its ICU, Wright said the staff has improved in recognizing non-accidental trauma.

He added it also may be attributed to the economic downturn and rise in substance abuse.

The phrase “non-accidental trauma,” Currie said, is a “catch all” for injuries that didn’t happen by accident.

Medical personnel can distinguish between a deliberate act and one that occurred because a parent truly dropped or injured the child by accident, she said.

“We can tell a difference between that and an inflicted injury where they shake the baby,” Currie said.

Sarah Bennettcan be reached at (270) 505-1750 or sbennett@thenewsenterprise.com.