Most Americans connect the pink ribbon with breast cancer awareness, but the significance of the blue ribbon is less familiar. Introduced in 1989, the Blue Ribbon Campaign to Prevent Child Abuse began with one blue ribbon tied by a Virginia woman to her car’s antenna in memory of her grandson who died from the abuse he suffered. The Campaign spread across the United States and now focuses on the positive message of supporting families and strengthening communities to prevent child abuse and neglect. The blue ribbon is especially prominent during April.
The month of April was first declared Child Abuse Prevention Month by presidential proclamation in 1983, and The Guilds Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Center at Children's Hospital Central California hopes the publicity will help bring about a brighter future for victims of child maltreatment and neglect.
“Having a month to promote awareness is good, but abuse doesn’t stop on April 30th,” said Dr. Philip Hyden, medical director of child advocacy at Children's. “Setting aside the month to focus on the issues of child abuse can help everyone be more aware of what goes on all year. Teachers may be more observant if there’s something not right with a student. Family members may look for things and ask the child, and the child may speak up.”
Through referrals from public health agencies, Child Protective Services (CPS), law enforcement officers and others, the Guilds Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Center managed about 400 outpatient visits in 2011. “We’ve had suspected abuse cases referred to us from as far away as Inyo County,” said Dr. Hyden. “Our numbers are going up, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that abuse is going up. It means we’re becoming more known and recognized.”
In addition to outpatient visits, Dr. Hyden also evaluates Children’s Hospital inpatients who may have been abused. “I examine the child to see if the injuries are consistent with the medical history given,” he said. Of the 89 inpatients referred for child maltreatment evaluations in 2011, several children had injuries that were diagnosed as accidental or unintentional. “In cases, however, where there has been a crime, we strive to protect children from further harm. We’re very happy when we can help a family.”
A desire to help more families may lead to participation in a number of research studies. “Our program is planning on participating in research involving abusive head trauma, fractures and prematurity, and vitamin D deficiency in children who have fractures,” said Dr. Hyden. “We have had several infants who are breastfeeding exclusively who have fractures. In some of those cases, the infant is severely deficient in vitamin D. There are some cases where there may be an underlying medical entity contributing to the etiology of injuries.”
Dr. Hyden’s staff includes a coordinator, Leanne Kozub, who provides training and other outreach programs in the community; a medical liaison, Stephanie Shaw; a medical social worker, Patrick Kertzman; and a part-time nurse practitioner, Jaylene Oseña. These dedicated professionals address infinite needs with limited resources.
“Our supply is trying hard to fulfill the demand, which has become exponential,” said Dr. Hyden. “I am planning to add another full-time child abuse pediatrician and nurse practitioner certified in child abuse treatment this year.” He also dreams of adding a treatment component for both long- and short-term mental health services for abused children and the nonoffending parent. “We keep tabs on our kids and work closely with other resources for referral,” he said.
Dr. Hyden would love to see blue ribbons on every lapel. “I think child abuse awareness should be emphasized every day,” he said. “Public awareness enables people to really focus on it. It can be talked about. It doesn’t have to be a family secret.”
Dr. Hyden takes every opportunity to spread awareness – even at the grocery store, movies or mall. “When I see a parent visibly upset with a child, depending on the circumstances, I will go up to the parent and ask if I can be of any help,” he said. “They may need a break. It doesn’t help to get angry with them or tell them to calm down. We just need to offer to give them a hand.”
The Guilds Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Center exists to give these families that hand. “The Center has been a tremendous asset to the Hospital and the children we serve,” said Dr. Hyden. The Center can be reached by calling (559) 353-6022.
To learn more about supporting the Guilds in this noble cause, visit their website. And don’t forget to wear your blue ribbon.