Dr. Jaime Pittenger, hospitalist, UK Healthcare Department of Pediatrics, Section of Inpatient Pediatrics at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, finds her background in children’s medicine gives her a unique “in the trenches” view of how child abuse affects children and families and what can be done about it.
“Child maltreatment is a serious and prevalent public health problem in the United States,” she says. Dr. Pittenger has used her distinctive perspective in many ways to improve awareness and aid prevention of child abuse. One of those ways was to accept a 2010 invitation to become a member of the Board of Directors of Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky (PCAK).
Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky (PCAK) is Kentucky’s only statewide child abuse prevention organization. The group’s philosophy is that prevention is the only cure for child abuse. PCAK works through public awareness campaigns, parent education and support programs as well as professional training.
Dr. Pittenger ticks off some alarming statistics. “In fiscal year 2008, U.S. state and local child protective services (CPS) received more than 3 million reports of children being abused or neglected…. An estimated 772,000 children were classified by CPS authorities as being maltreated and 1,740 children aged 0 to 17 died from abuse and neglect in 2008.
“In recent years Kentucky has consistently ranked among the worst states in the nation for death rates associated with child abuse and neglect. Each year in Kentucky there are more than 14,000 substantiated reports of abuse and neglect. The result is that Kentucky averages 30 to 40 child deaths each year involving abuse and neglect, with another 30 to 60 near fatalities annually.”
She sees evidence of abuse often. “I don’t necessarily go into every patient encounter thinking that it is abuse,” Dr. Pittenger says, “but abuse is something that I keep in the back of my mind because as a practitioner I know that if you don’t think about it, you will miss it.” While it may not be a common diagnosis, she says that “if we miss it the effects can be devastating.”
“Back in the 1970s, when we first heard the words ‘child abuse’ there was disbelief and a reluctance to believe such harm could be inflicted on our children,” says Jill Seyfred, Executive Director of PCAK. As a prevention organization and as a concerned society, Seyfred believes that we need to do a better job of helping our fellow Kentuckians realize that child abuse exists “in MY town, in MY neighborhood, in the school where MY kids attend, MY place of worship. … It doesn’t happen ‘somewhere else’—it happens right here.”
“Our philosophy at PCAK is that every parent starts off wanting to be a good parent—regardless of the circumstances in which they have become parents,” says Seyfred. In addition to substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental health issues, all well-known sources of child abuse and neglect, Seyfred lists things like financial constraints, social isolation, and lack of parenting role models as reasons for child abuse and neglect. “If we have not been taught how to parent differently, we will probably parent our children as we were parented,” she says. Sometimes this leads to inappropriate expectations of children, e.g., the inexperienced parent who expects a one-year-old child to be potty-trained, walking and talking.
PCAK’s goals include engaging Kentucky’s citizens in child abuse and neglect prevention efforts, and to establish preventing abuse and neglect as a public policy priority. To help accomplish these goals, Dr. Pittenger is involved in the Kids Are Worth It Conference. She serves on the External Affairs Committee of the PCAK Board, works on the Commit to Prevent Campaign, and in the Legislative Advocacy. She is also a member of the State Child Fatality Review Panel, and PCAK was heavily involved in the successful passage of that legislation.
Dr. Pittenger does trainings for medical professionals about abusive head trauma. She also regards parent education as an important tool to prevent child abuse and neglect. “Knowledge is power,” she says. She is involved with a statewide initiative to educate the public about signs of abuse, what to do, and how to prevent it.
PCAK welcomes volunteers. Last year volunteers gave more than 8,000 hours of service to PCAK in projects ranging from data entry in the office to serving as board members.
Today PCAK is recognized as the Kentucky affiliate of Prevent Child Abuse America. Their office is at 801 Corporate Drive, Lexington, KY 40503. The telephone is 859-225-8879 and the website is http://www.pcaky.org. The e-mail is PCAKY@PCAKY.ORG.
By Martha Evans Sparks, Staff Writer
The Pinwheels for Prevention Campaign is conducted annually in April, during Child Abuse Prevention Month. Blue and silver plastic pinwheels are distributed statewide. Most of the pinwheels are planted in pinwheel “gardens” in a high-visibility place where the display can gain media and public attention.
The pinwheel symbol is used nationwide to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect prevention. It was chosen to represent hope and promise.
Kentucky’s involvement in the Pinwheel Campaign ranks 2nd nationally, behind only Utah. Readers can contact PCAK or log on to their website http://www.pcaky.org for additional information.