Know the signs of child abuse and how to get help

Special to the Herald-Leader,Jamie PittengerApril 21, 2013 

Dr. Jaime Pittenger is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Kentucky and a physician at UK HealthCare and the Kentucky ChildrenÕs Hospital. Photo courtesy UK HealthCare


April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and unfortunately, Kentucky is one of the worst states for child abuse and child deaths due to non-accidental trauma.

Each year in Kentucky, there are more than 14,000 substantiated reports of abuse and neglect. The result is that Kentucky averages 30 to 40 child deaths each year involving abuse and neglect, with another 30 to 60 near fatalities annually. Child abuse does not discriminate based on race, religion, or socioeconomic status.

The aftermath of physical abuse usually requires ongoing treatment and therapy, and often results in irreversible brain damage and limits on cognitive development, causing lifelong learning and socialization challenges.

The financial resources to treat the physical and psychological needs of victims of child abuse are often derived from state-funded programs generated and maintained from taxpayers' dollars; not to mention the staggering monetary drain it takes to prosecute, incarcerate, and rehabilitate perpetrators of child abuse.

Child abuse hurts everyone. So, how can parents, teachers, relatives, friends and other caregivers help to prevent child abuse?

Know how to spot the signs of abuse. Young children are not able to report abuse, and older children may be too afraid to do so. Bruising is an important warning sign for child abuse for infants and children. For a non-mobile infant, bruising of ANY KIND is not normal. For a child of any age, bruising to the ears, neck, torso, buttocks or genitals should raise concerns. If you see bruising, seek immediate medical attention for the infant or child.

Be aware of steps to staying in control to prevent abuse. It is normal to feel frustrated when a baby or young child cries, but crying is the way they communicate. If you are feeling frustrated or angry, take a break. It's okay to leave the baby in a crib or other safe place while you take a moment to regroup.

Use extreme care when deciding who can watch your child. If you don't have total and complete trust in the person, then don't trust him or her with your child.

Know how to report child abuse. Federal and state laws require that you report any suspected child abuse, and you have several options to do so.

In situations involving children in immediate danger, call 911 or the local emergency number. In Kentucky, if you need an immediate response to your report, call the Kentucky Child Protection Hotline toll free 24/7 at 877-KYSAFE1 (877-597-2331). Anonymous calls are accepted. To report non-emergency situations that do not require an immediate response, you can use the web-based reporting system at 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, except for state holidays. Anonymous reports are accepted.

Finally, know where to find good sources for more information about resources and child abuse prevention. In Kentucky, contact Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky at (859) 225-8879, toll free at 1(800) 244-5373, or

The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, staffed with professional counselors, is available 24/7 at 1-800-422-4453, or

Dr. Jaime Pittenger is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Kentucky and a physician at UK HealthCare and the Kentucky Children's Hospital.

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