Employee & Community Health

Strong families, communities help prevent child abuse

3/28/2016 by Lisa Fink, APRN, CNP

ECH_Abuse_01_widgetStrong families and communities can help prevent abuse and neglect of children. Raising awareness also is key. Lisa Fink of the Mayo Clinic Child and Family Advocacy Program (MCFAP) offers these tips for parents on recognizing abuse and how to prevent it:

Sexual abuse

Teaching children about “stranger danger” isn’t enough. Sexual abuse most often is done by someone the child knows and trusts – 47% of offenders are relatives. Because of this, the child is hurt and confused and often doesn’t want to “tell on” the person who abused them. When they do talk about it, it may be over a period of time, not in one conversation. 

  • Parents should encourage open discussions about safety and “private areas”, using the proper anatomical names for body parts.
  • Ask the question, “Who would you go to if someone was hurting you or touching you in a way that made you feel uncomfortable?” Some options to suggest might be a parent, teacher or religious leader.
  • If a child confides in a trusted adult, there are community resources that can help: the child’s health care provider, police, county protective services or MCFAP. The goal is to ensure the safety of the child.

Sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation, particularly of adolescents, is on the rise, so:  

  • Talk to your teenager about internet safety and the risk of meeting people online.
  • Know their friends and where they are going.
  • Be informed about sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is selling children into prostitution by a third party – a pimp. Sex traffickers frequently target vulnerable children ages 12 to 14. They may be runaways, involved in substance abuse or have mental health issues. The trafficker may be someone they meet on the internet or who approaches them on the street, usually promising the kids a “better life.” Children may go willingly or be abducted. If you suspect sex trafficking online or in your area, contact the police.

 Physical abuse

  • Shaking a baby continues to be the most severe and life-threatening form of abuse for infants. It’s normal for babies to cry, especially during the first three weeks to three months of age. There are resources available to help parents and other adults better understand and cope with a crying baby, such as Period of PURPLE Crying, primary care providers, family members and friends. Another online resource is www.dontshake.org, the website for the National Center for Shaken Baby Syndrome.
  • Other kinds of child abuse include hitting, pushing, shoving, burning or using any form of excessive force during discipline. Some nonviolent discipline options are time-outs for the child or “take five” for adults (walk away from the situation for five minutes).

Mayo Child and Family Advocacy Center

ECH_Hasbro_01_widgetThe center offers a safe, reassuring “one-stop-shop” where children can receive a comprehensive evaluation if abuse is suspected. A multidisciplinary team made up of a medical provider, law enforcement, county attorney, victim advocate, county child protection services and mental health professional works with the child and family members. This child-friendly evaluation takes two to three hours and has been found to increase prosecution.

Helping with an evaluation may be Hasbro, the center’s gentle, sweet therapy dog who can be with a child from beginning to end, distracting them during the exam and relieving tension and stress.

Each child also receives a backpack, courtesy of Project Ignite Light, that contains a fleece blanket, pajamas, personal care items, a book, journal and pen.

The center is located in Rochester at 2720 N. Broadway and can be reached by calling 507-266-0443. Center hours are: 8-5, Monday through Friday; medical staff are available 24/7 by calling the Mayo Clinic operator.

Lisa Fink, APRN and CNP, has over 15 years’ experience working with maltreated children and is one of four medical providers on the Mayo Child and Family Advocacy team. She specializes in the evaluation of sexually abused children and adolescents.