Can You Save 63,000 Children? The Answer May Surprise You

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Last year in Louisiana, there were more than 63,000 reported cases of child abuse and neglect. That’s 63,000 of our kids living in unsafe environments, facing uncertainty about the adults in their life, and often living in fear. A majority of these children are under five years old, which means they often can’t speak up for themselves and explain to adults what is happening.

How many more were unreported, unidentified? In both situations, we often hear about tragic endings to these stories; it leaves us questioning, or perhaps, “What could I have done differently?”

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month; and as one of the front-line responders to cases of child abuse and neglect, I see the trauma, but I also see the opportunities where adults can help protect and prevent maltreatment of our children.

This is a critical fact to remember: child abuse and neglect is 100% preventable. Knowing the warning signs and then understanding how to report cases or help someone who may be suffering could mean helping save the lives of children.

What is Child Abuse and Neglect?

In the world of forensic pediatric medical care, the term “child maltreatment” is an inclusive term and refers to all categories of abuse and neglect: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect. Some of these seem to be self-explanatory.

  • Physical abuse is non-accidental physical injury as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting, burning, or otherwise harming a child that is inflicted by a parent, caregiver, or other person who has responsibility for the child.
  • Sexual abuse is the involvement of the child in any sexual act with a person; it is also includes the use of the child in pornographic displays and other sexual situation constituting a crime under state laws. (Yes, the laws can vary from state to state.)
  • Emotional abuse refers to a pattern of failing to provide for a child’s basic needs, to the extent that the child’s physical and/or psychological well-being is harmed and/or endangered. Examples include constant criticism, threats, withholding love/support/guidance from a child. While this is often difficult to prove, emotional abuse is almost always present when other types of maltreatment are involved.

Neglect is defined as the unreasonable refusal or failure of a parent, guardian, or other caregiver to provide for a child’s basic needs (food, shelter, clothing). Neglect can be also physical, medical, educational or emotional in nature. Basically, it is parents/guardians simply choosing not to do their job; however, it does not necessarily refer to a lack of financial means to care for a child. Neglect is found in all socio-economic populations from the very poor to the very wealthy.

Whereas one can argue that the boundaries are blurry between the above categories, the fact is that neglect exists, and there is nothing about any of this—neglect or abuse in any form—that is beneficial to children, to their future, or to a community’s future. The good news is that people of all backgrounds, all cultures, and all socio-economic levels can be part of the solution by being watchful and by being concerned for each other’s families.

Signs and Symptoms of Abuse or Neglect in Children

Click here for a full list of signs of abuse, neglect, sexual assault, and emotional maltreatment.

  • Sudden changes in behavior or school performance
  • Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention
  • Has learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
  • Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
  • Lacks adult supervision
  • Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn
  • Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home
  • Is reluctant to be around a particular person
  • Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes
  • Has fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school
  • Seems frightened of the parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home
  • Shrinks at the approach of adults
  • Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver

How You Can Help Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

  1. Educate yourself and others about resources and services available. You can visit www.pcal.org for a full listing of resources and guides;
  2. Discuss your concerns with the child’s teacher or other responsible adult in the child’s life;
  3. Call 1 (800) CHILDREN is an anonymous toll-free hotline offering crisis intervention, support, parenting information and referrals to community resources; and,
  4. To report a suspected case of child abuse or neglect, you can call 1 (855)4LA-KIDS, which is a 24/7 hotline that will take anonymous reports or tips.

Parenting is the hardest “job” my husband and I have ever taken on. We prayed that we would be blessed with children, and now can say that four young adults call us “mom” and “dad.” It was—and is—still challenging to stay positive and provide the necessities for those children that we so deeply cherish.

We can all do something to save these children. We are our brother’s keeper! Thus, I encourage you from the bottom of my heart to take time during the month of April, and find out more ways you can make a significant difference in a child’s life through child abuse and neglect prevention. In saving a child from a life of sadness and shame, you might just find a purpose that you never anticipated before now—that of saving your own community from indifference.


“Dr. V” is a native of Baton Rouge and is a Board Certified pediatrician who currently serves as Associate Director of Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital Pediatric Residency Program. While Dr. Vicari is very active in the Baton Rouge area, she is currently serving on the Board of Directors for Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana, for the BR Children’s Advocacy Center, and for Metanoia Manor. She also serves as a Deputy Coroner for the EBR Parish providing consults on an as needed basis for cases involving pediatric (child and teen) victims. Finally, Dr. Vicari is an ACE Educator for Louisiana and presents on the public health crisis involving how adverse childhood experiences are related to negative medical and mental health consequences for both children and adults.

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