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In 2021, 60 children died of child abuse in Indiana. Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in 7 children experienced child abuse and neglect in the last year.

“It’s normal to be stressed.” Division of Child Protection teaching families to focus on positive relationships to prevent child abuse and neglect

division of child protection pinwheel garden

The Division of Child Protection team planted a pinwheel garden on April 3.

In 2021, 60 children died of child abuse in Indiana. Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in 7 children experienced child abuse and neglect in the last year. It’s a difficult topic to talk about, but one that Indiana University School of Medicine’s child protection division hopes to provide education about to more parents and families.

“We want to make people aware of what adverse childhood experiences are, because we know now that they can cause chronic illnesses in children and cause them to have high-risk health behaviors as adults,” said Shannon Thompson, MD, chief of the Child Protection Division. The division provides clinical services and education to improve the evaluation and care of children who may have experienced abuse or neglect.

April is recognized in the United States as National child Abuse Prevention Month. In Indiana, you may see blue pinwheel gardens placed outside in honor of children who have lost their lives to child abuse as well as several other events planned by Prevent Child Abuse Indiana across the state. For Thompson, one of the best ways to prevent abuse is to focus on positive ways for families to build relationships, despite any stress or challenges they may be experiencing.

“There isn’t a parent alive who hasn’t felt frustrated with a child,” Thompson said. “Our goal is to provide parents with resources and information on how to build healthy relationships and focus on positivity, even if the family is struggling with challenges like poverty, access to health care or other major difficulties. Sometimes parents are just at their wits end and it’s not necessarily with the child, but is from external factors and unfortunately, the child becomes the outlet.”

The Child Protection Division is housed in Riley Hospital for Children in downtown Indianapolis. Their location allows them to be embedded within Indiana’s only nationally ranked children’s hospital in the state. But despite their presence in the hospital, Thompson says many families don’t know much about the division or what they do.

“Sometimes people confuse us with the Department of Children and Families, but our work is much different,” Thompson said. “Our faculty are board-certified in child abuse pediatrics and we’re made up of a team of highly-dedicated physicians, nurses, social workers, health educators and support staff. We don’t just help evaluate children when there is a suspected case of child abuse—we’re here to be a resource for families who need support.”

Thompson emphasized that whether a parent has certain risk factors for child abuse doesn’t mean that they will neglect or abuse their child. “It just means you have more stress and you need more support. It’s normal to be stressed. We can help you learn to cope with it.”

On April 3, the Division of Child Protection placed a pinwheel garden with 60 pinwheels outside Riley Hospital in honor of those 60 children who lost their lives to child abuse or neglect in 2021. They’ll also be out in the community throughout the month, hoping to educate parents about positive parenting and the resources available to them.

“Parenting is tough,” Thompson said, “but we’re here for support and encouragement to help them provide a positive family life for their families.”

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Christina Griffiths

Christina is the media relations specialist for the IU School of Medicine Dean's Office of Strategic Communications.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.