HOUSTON (April 13, 2015)

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and in honor of “Texas Blue Out” for Child Abuse Prevention Day last Friday, the staff and affiliated UTHealth physicians at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital – together with a number of their allies across the community – joined together for a special candle lighting ceremony to recognize the occasion and raise awareness for the important issue.

Attendees of the event included:

  • Connie Spence, Harris County Assistant District Attorney and Division Chief of the Child Abuse Prosecutors from the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, as well as some members from her team;
  • CJ Broussard-White, Harris County CPS Regional Director, as well as some CPS representatives;
  • Detectives from the Houston Police Department Special Victims Division, Child Abuse Unit;
  • Representatives from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Bureau Division, Child Abuse Unit;
  • Susie Distefano, CEO of Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital;
  • Toni Von Wenckstern, administrative director of the Memorial Hermann Texas Trauma Institute;
  • Rebecca Girardet, MD, director of the Division of Child Protection Pediatrics at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and UTHealth Medical School;
  • as well as at least 200 employees and other physicians affiliated with the hospital.

“We’re so grateful to everyone who came out to join us and show their support for raising awareness of this difficult issue,” said Distefano. “It’s a hard thing to talk about but a dialogue that’s absolutely necessary because, if we stay silent, then nothing ever changes. And that was the purpose of Friday’s event: to honor the children who have been affected by some sort of abuse or maltreatment who can’t speak for themselves – to give those voiceless children a voice.”

The event began with a special musical tribute by the Twin Creeks Middle School Choir from Spring ISD who performed the song “Give Us Hope.” A few minutes later, Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital employees lit “blue” candles and placed them in the center of the room for all to see. The candles represented the more than 800 children who were evaluated at the hospital for suspected maltreatment in the last year alone. At the conclusion of the event, the crowd recited a powerful pledge aloud together, each individual promising to “to educate myself about the realities of child abuse… to give a voice and report any and all suspicions… to cast a light in the darkness by doing the right thing the first time, every time.”

Child maltreatment encompasses several different kinds of abuse such as physical, emotional, sexual or even neglect. Child abuse is a serious issue in the Lone Star State, and the statistics are deeply disturbing. According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), Child Protective Services (CPS) investigated more than 168,164 allegations of child abuse or neglect in Texas last year. 151 children died at the hands of a parent or other caregiver. 66,572 children were victims of abuse or neglect, and more than 17,378 had to be removed from their homes for their own protection. A new report from the DFPS Office of Child Safety found that eight out of 10 children who died from abuse or neglect in Texas over a four-year period were 3 years old or younger and most died at the hands of parents.

“The good news is that abuse and neglect are completely preventable,” said Dr. Girardet. “But it’s not enough to work individually. We have to come together as a community to provide comprehensive care that connects families to area resources, and addresses mental health and substance addictions, in addition to meeting their acute medical needs.”

At Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, there are a number of programs in place that focus on parent education in these areas to help prevent instances of child abuse. For example, the hospital has partnered with the UTHealth School of Nursing to send nursing students to local high schools to work with pregnant and parenting teens. The hospital also screens new mothers for postpartum depression (PPD), sending specially-trained social workers to meet with moms suffering from PPD and provide them with a much-needed support system. And for the Period of PURPLE Crying – the phrase used to describe the time in a baby’s life when they cry more than any other time – Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital is delivering a parent education program to families in the neonatal intensive care unit, educating parents on infant behavior.

“These are just a few of the efforts we’re taking to promote healthy families,” said Cary Cain, pediatric trauma prevention coordinator at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. “But there is still so much work to be done.”