ORONO, Maine — More than 250 professionals who work in or with Maine’s child welfare system met last week at the University of Maine to discuss a topic that appears in the news with increasing regularity: child abuse and neglect.
Gruesome stories of child abuse show that more than 2,500 American children are killed every year at the hands of someone who is supposed to protect them. The most endangered are the youngest children with almost half of all fatalities in 2009 being children under 1 year and three-quarters of fatalities being children under 4 years.
The 17th annual Child Welfare Conference, “Hot Topics in Child Welfare,” focused on steps to help child welfare professionals identify at-risk children and prevent future tragedies from happening. The day-long conference featured a keynote address by Dr. Vincent Palusci, a board-certified child abuse pediatrician and medical director of the Child Protection Committee at New York University Hospitals Center.
“Despite our best efforts, there are a growing number of children in the US who die each year from child abuse and neglect,” Palusci said. “There is also a growing body of evidence showing us how childhood abuse and neglect leads to adult illness. While there may be professional controversies about the legal issues in child maltreatment, our society needs to better address the basic needs for parenting and supervision in all families if we are to prevent deaths and reduce its long-term physical and emotional consequences,” said Dr. Palusci.
One factor that can have a positive impact on the safety of children is the accurate identification of physical injuries, Palusci said. Many children suffer numerous abuse-related injuries before they ever come in contact with the child welfare system or with services that might save their lives. The address by Palusci was intended to help participants identify accidental vs. non-accidental injuries. In an effort to reach Maine’s physicians, the keynote address was broadcast via video conferencing to the pediatric grand rounds in Maine’s two largest hospitals: Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and Maine Medical Center in Portland.
Also addressed at the conference were investigation and prosecution of child abuse, tools for engaging families, social work ethics in child welfare, and how to utilize the child death review process to learn from and prevent future tragedies.
Started 17 years ago, the annual Child Welfare Conference was created in response to the recognition that the combined professional knowledge of multi-disciplinary teams leads to better outcomes for child victims. The conference planning committee’s membership mirrored its audience with participants from the Bangor Police Department, Casey Family Services, Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Eastern Maine Medical Center, National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths, and Penobscot Community Health Care. Funding and support for the conference were provided by the Maine Citizen’s Review Panel and Community Health and Counseling Services.