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Child Abuse Prevention & Awareness: Protecting Children in Utah

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In honor of April’s Child Abuse Prevention Month, Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital will display more than 1,800 pinwheels in honor of children who have died as a result of child abuse nationwide.

Reported cases of child abuse plummeted in Utah and around the United States during the pandemic.

Health officials don’t yet know what that means, said Dr. Kristine Campbell, University of Utah Health and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital. But she and other pediatric experts are concerned.

“I worry that the most vulnerable children were hidden from their protectors — neighbors, teachers, medical care providers, religious leaders — and that there is a hidden epidemic of abuse that we may not even recognize,” said Dr. Campbell, a child abuse pediatrician at Primary Children’s Hospital’s Center for Safe and Healthy Families.

“We know from prior recessions that without sufficient economic support for families in need, we will begin to see a rise in child abuse just as we begin to recover from the pandemic,” she added.

But what is clear – now more than ever – is that everyone must act to protect children.

“It’s our duty to make a referral when we suspect child abuse or neglect. Referrals to child protective services are anonymous and safe,” Dr. Campbell said. “It will not put you or others at risk or in danger, and it may end up saving a child’s life.”

In 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, 1,809 children nationwide died as a result of child abuse. The number of child deaths rose 3 percent from the previous year, continuing an upward trend.

Also in 2019, child protective services agencies nationwide received 4.4 million child abuse referrals for nearly 7.9 children, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Child abuse referrals include physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, and sex trafficking.

In Utah, more than 10,500 children were victims of child abuse in 2019.

“If a child tells you they’re being abused, listen to them, believe them,” Dr. Campbell said. “Let the child know that the abuse is not their fault, praise them for disclosing the abuse, and then report it.”

Dr. Campbell also urges people to plan actions beyond reporting child abuse.

“If you are referring a family because you are concerned about a child, take whatever steps you can to contribute to a neighborhood, a clinic, a school, a church or a business where children and their families can seek safety and support,” she said.

“Ask an overwhelmed parent if they need help. Stop in—once you’re vaccinated—and see if the kids could use a walk to the park. Figure out if there is a food pantry of a diaper drive nearby—or start one up. These kinds for efforts can make much larger, long-term changes for kids at risk,” she added.

Anyone who suspects child abuse should call the Child Abuse/Neglect Hotline at 1-855-323-3237 or local law enforcement.

Learn more about preventing child abuse by visiting the following links:

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