Expert: Health providers are key players in child abuse prevention

Expert: Health providers are key players in child abuse prevention

April 5th, 2018 by Elizabeth Fite in Local Regional News

Do you spank your kids when they misbehave? How does it make you feel? Would you like to try an alternative?

Those questions are examples of what pediatric providers should ask parents during children's checkups, said Dr. Walter F. Lambert, an associate professor at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

"We have to use our social authority to talk about this," he said. "We need to not hide from this subject."

Want more?

Who: Children’s Advocacy Center – The Emmy Haney House (CAC)

What: Kickoff Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month

When: April 10, 9-11 a.m.

Where: 5705 Uptain Road, Suite C, Chattanooga

As medical director of the Southwest Florida Child Protection Team, Lambert shared insight into a provider's role in preventing child abuse with a room full of pediatricians at Children's Hospital at Erlanger on Wednesday morning.

Dr. Carla Garcia, director of the child protection team at Erlanger, said the hospital treated 391 children for suspected child abuse in 2017, up from 360 in 2016.

"Take this time to reflect on what we can do as an institution to make change, because it's all about prevention, not just about intervention," Garcia said.

Lambert encouraged providers to discuss the topic in their practices — not simply hand out information — and challenged common misconceptions about what's considered "normal."

"We all have different experiences, maybe our families, maybe the time we grew up in," he said, which is why physicians shouldn't use personal benchmarks when discussing what's acceptable.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents don't use physical punishment, there's no state in the U.S. where it's against the law for parents to hit their children.

"We have to acknowledge that bad behaviors are difficult, and changing the way you've done things isn't easy," he said. "I think the issue for a lot of people is they don't have any idea what else to do."

He said it's crucial for children to have structure, limits and rules, but using positive reinforcement for good behaviors and negative reinforcement, like ignoring bad behaviors, are more effective and less dangerous than hitting.

"We get so focused on 'no' that we forget 'yes,'" he said.

Garcia said she hopes that Erlanger will consider adopting a "no-hit zone" policy — something that other hospitals across the country have embraced — where staff are trained to intervene and offer alternatives.

As more institutions establish "no-hit" policies, it will help the country move in the direction of many other nations where children are viewed less like property, Lambert said.

"Reporting can allow for intervention, and if there's one thing that we really have learned, it's how to help people who want to change," he said.

Wednesday's lecture was held in conjunction with National Child Abuse Prevention Month and sponsored by the Corina Fields Carroll Fund, which aims to protect children and honor Dr. Carroll.

Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at efite@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.