Child abuse cases escalating in Chattanooga area

photo Dr. Annamaria Church talks Tuesday about child abuse cases that she has seen at Children's Hospital at Erlanger.


• The national hotline for stressed-out parents is 1-800-4-A-CHILD• The state hotline for suspicious child abuse activity is 1-877-237-0004


Read more: Grand jury to consider shaken baby case in Chattanooga

Twelve Alternatives to Lashing Out at Your Child

The next time everyday pressures build up to the point where you feel like lashing out -- STOP!Try any of these simple alternatives. You'll feel better... and so will your child.• Take a deep breath... and another. Then remember you are the adult.• Close your eyes and imagine you're hearing what your child is about to hear.• Press your lips together and count to 10... or better yet, to 20.• Put your child in a time-out chair (remember this rule: one time-out minute for each year of age.)• Put yourself in a time-out chair. Think about why you are angry: is it your child, or is your child simply a convenient target for your anger?• Phone a friend.• If someone can watch the children, go outside and take a walk.• Take a hot bath or splash cold water on your face.• Hug a pillow.• Turn on some music. Maybe even sing along.• Pick up a pencil and write down as many helpful words as you can think of. Save the list.• Call for prevention information: 1-800-CHILDRENSource: Prevent Child Abuse America

Ten Ways to Help Prevent Child Abuse

• Be a nurturing parent.Children need to know that they are special, loved and capable of following their dreams.• Help a friend, neighbor or relative.Being a parent isn't easy. Offer a helping hand take care of the children, so the parent(s) can rest or spend time together.• Help yourself.When the big and little problems of your everyday life pile up to the point you feel overwhelmed and out of control - take time out. Don't take it out on your kid.• If your baby cries...It can be frustrating to hear your baby cry. Learn what to do if your baby won't stop crying. Never shake a baby - shaking a child may result in severe injury or death.• Get involved.Ask your community leaders, clergy, library and schools to develop services to meet the needs of healthy children and families.• Help to develop parenting resources at your local library.• Promote programs in school.Teaching children, parents and teachers prevention strategies can help to keep children safe.• Monitor your child's television and video viewing.Watching violent films and TV programs can harm young children.• Volunteer at a local child abuse prevention program.For information about volunteer opportunities, call 1.800.CHILDREN.• Report suspected abuse or neglect.If you have reason to believe a child has been or may be harmed, call your local department of children and family services or you local police department.Source: Prevent Child Abuse America

The baby who "pooped his pants for the 14th time today." Failed toilet training efforts on toddlers. A teen report card with too many D's.

"Anybody who's had kids knows the frustration," said Dr. Annamaria Church, chief of Erlanger's general pediatrics division. "What isn't normal is to lash out toward a child."

And yet such behavior has become alarmingly routine at Children's Hospital at Erlanger, where Church has seen nine physical child abuse cases in the past six weeks.

Last November, six infants presented traumatic brain injuries at Erlanger after being shaken by a caregiver. Two of the babies died. At the time, hospital officials called a news conference, citing holiday stress, financial pressures and potential unemployment as primary reasons why young parents snapped.

The most recent cases, though, are more of a mystery, Church said Tuesday at another news conference called to discuss child abuse.

"I'm not sure what exactly to blame now," she said. "Perhaps still the economy. Maybe instead of the holidays, it's the heat."

Some of the more recent local injuries include malnourishment, broken bones and what Church called "acceleration deceleration" injuries - a possible euphemism for "shaken baby syndrome."

On Tuesday, Erlanger's public relations team gathered reporters to note the latest uptick.

"I think there's more and more stress in people's lives," Church said. "They don't know how to cope with it, so they're lashing out at their children."

Church said she had gotten to know Chattanooga police Investigator Galen Fugh "really well," lamenting the number of times she's had to summon law enforcement to Erlanger's exam rooms.

Fugh has been part of the police department's family investigations unit about five years, he said. In the beginning of his tenure, he saw "a lot of sexual stuff - fondlings, rapes - but now with the economy the way it is, there's been a whole lot more physical abuse."

"You see it from weeks old to 171/2 years old," he said.

Nearly five children a day die as result of child abuse nationwide, with a majority under age 4, according to Childhelp, a national nonprofit focused on preventing child abuse.

Erlanger has coded 191 individual patients as child abuse cases within the past year, according to hospital spokeswoman Pat Charles.

Strangely, Church said, some cases incorporate "medical abuse," named for wayward parents who make a baby sick or make a healthy baby appear sick. They later use the medical community to "further do things to the child" - unnecessary lab tests, X-rays, CT scans, lumbar punctures, anti-seizure medicine - based on what the parent says.

"It's amazing how creative parents can be," Church said. "It's a psychological disorder in the parent."

Church noted that, while even teenagers are victims of abuse, most of the incidents she sees involve children teetering on either edge of the talking threshold. Kids who aren't able to express what's wrong to their parents - 2-year-olds and younger - along with potty-training toddlers are among the most abused, she said.

All the abuse is preventable, law enforcement and hospital officials stressed. They recommended placing an incessantly crying baby in a crib, then going to another room to calm down.

Hospital officials provided two hotlines - one for parents that will "help talk you down" and another one that allows any Tennessean to report suspicious behavior.

"Everyone is a mandatory reporter," Church said.

Contact Chris Carroll at or 423-757-6610.

photo Dr. Alan Kohrt, right, introduces Dr. Annamaria Church on Tuesday during a news conference about child abuse cases at Children's Hospital at Erlanger.