CATES: April is time for fight against abuseCarol Cates is the chief nursing officer at Odessa Regional Medical Center. You can reach her via e-mail at

I wanted to finish out the month of April with what is to me, the most important health topic of the month for April: Child Abuse Prevention. While I have worked in administrative and leadership roles for many years now, I will always think of myself as an ICU and ER nurse.
But, as much as I love those two areas; as much as I love taking care of patients in those areas; seeing the results of child abuse was the thing I hated and still hate the most. I think most of us in health care that have encountered an abused child have a very difficult time maintaining our professional distance and not letting our emotions take over at one point or another. A world where no one in my health care ever had to take care of an abused child again, would be a wonderful world indeed.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Service’s Children’s Bureau, in 2017, 674 thousand children in the United States were abused. That works out to roughly 9 kids in every thousand. Nearly 25% of abused children are less than 3 years old. Those figures alone are frightening, but worse is that that number is increasing, not decreasing. Child abuse has increased by nearly 3% between 2013 and 2017. The most common form of child abuse is neglect — nearly 75% of child abuse is neglect. The other abuse types are physical (18%), sexual (8%) and “other” (7%)—which is everything from threatened abuse to drug and alcohol addiction to inadequate supervision. If you noticed that those numbers add to more than 100% you are correct. Those numbers include children who suffer more than one type of abuse.
The statistics on the perpetrators of abuse are just as troubling. Sixty-nine percent of abuse is committed by the child’s mother, either alone or in conjunction with another person. Thirteen percent of abuse is committed by a non-parent usually either a relative or the partner of a parent. This is not how abuse is perpetrated in the media for the most part — abuse is most commonly portrayed as arising from a stranger, or an “abusive father.” Part of our failure to prevent child abuse, is we don’t focus education and awareness to the general public on the right people — we need to educate mothers more than any other population on stress relief and good parenting techniques.
There are many resources available to prevent child abuse. One of the best ways to prevent abuse is to engage protective factors within families and in communities. Protective factors for families are parental resilience, concrete support systems, knowledge of parenting and child development, social connections, and social-emotional competence of children. As a community providing a positive community environment, a positive school environment, and strong economic environment all help prevent abuse. If are close to parent, especially parents of young children, be a support system for them as much as you are able, that will give them one of those protective factors that prevent abuse. If you are a parent, reach out to your social connections and seek learning opportunities which will increase your knowledge in regards to parenting and child development — develop the protective factors in your home.
If you suspect child abuse, please report it to Child Protective Services, you can do that online through the Texas Abuse Hotline or at 800-252-5400. If you have a very young child (less than 60 days), and you feel you cannot keep the child without being abusive, Texas has a law called the Baby Moses Law. This allows a parent to leave an unharmed infant at a safe baby site, no questions asked. Both Medical Center Hospital and Odessa Regional Medical Center are safe baby sites. We can turn the tide of child abuse — by creating protective families and a protective community in Odessa. It will take time and effort, but we can create that wonderful world where no child is ever abused again.