Friday, April 23, 2021
‘If You Fail to Act, That’s When You Fail the Child’
Friday, February 26, 2021


Dr. Allison Gauthier was expecting to treat an infant with fever. But she quickly discovered that the baby was covered in bruises and had several fractured bones, in addition to a serious infection.

“This was a baby that wasn’t even old enough to move,” said Gauthier, who works in St. Luke’s Children’s Pediatric Emergency Department. “It was clear someone else had inflicted these injuries.”

St. Luke’s doctors are seeing a record spike in the numbers and severity of child abuse this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. And on Thursday they announced a partnership with other organizations to combat that increase.

There have been five child deaths in southern Idaho attributed to child abuse this year, including one this week, said Dr. Kendra Bowman, St. Luke’s Children’s Pediatric Trauma medical director. The last death St. Luke’s could find in its records was in 2017.

In 2019 St. Luke’s Pediatric Trauma admitted seven child abuse cases. In 2020 it admitted 19 cases, and the cases were more severe than past cases. Instead of an isolated head injury or a broken arm, doctors are seeing both in a single child.

Those who died during the past year included a 9-year-old Meridian boy who police say was starved and physically beaten. The boy who died this week was a 2-year-old from a Boise suburb who was allegedly  beaten to death by his mother’s fiancé.

Bowman said the spike in cases and the severity of injuries correlates directly with the pandemic. And it’s believed many cases are being unnoticed and unreported because kids are not in child care or school, which account for 40 percent of child abuse reports.

“We know parents and caregivers are under tremendous pressure,” said Bowman. “The financial strain from the recession caused by COVID-19, unemployment, working from home while children are present and not having any break from caring for children because schools and many offices are closed can be overwhelming.

 “We want parents to know we’re here to support them,” she added.

To combat the problem a group of organizations are partnering to create and share resources. Those organizations include St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital, Blue Cross Idaho Foundation, The Idaho Children’s Trust Fund, Idaho Resilience Project, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Idaho Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and Micron Foundation.

They just created a public service announcement, which will run on social media platforms, Spanish radio, PBS Kids and other outlets. It asks those to who feel overwhelmed to call or text the HelpNow line at 986-867-1073 or toll-free at 866-947-5186 to speak with counselors.

“The message is simple, yet powerful. We want parents to understand we all make mistakes. We all struggle. None of us are perfect parents,” said Roger Sherman, executive director of the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund. “Raising kids during COVID is tough and we know everyone needs help sometimes. We want parents to know they’re not alone and asking for help for their kids’ sake is a strength.”

The HelpNow Line keeps no records of those who call—it is not meant to get anyone in trouble, said  Sherman.

“Stopping child abuse before it happens is the goal for us. We hope creating support for people will make that difference.”

It’s our obligation to our children and community to report something that seems suspicious, said Dr. Matthew Cox, St. Luke’s CARES (Children at Risk Evaluation Services) medical director.

“Be aware. Be alert. When you’re worried about a child, take action. If a child tells you something, listen to that child and believe what they tell you,” he said.

In addition to the HelpNow line, the coalition has established a page with links and phone numbers for help with suicide prevention, substance abuse, parent and caregiver support and support for basic needs.

The website provides information on creating a Crying Baby Plan and strategies for walking away when stressed out. Children under one are the most vulnerable.

In addition, St. Luke’s CARES has created a Puppets for Prevention program that teaches 1,400 elementary school students each year about personal safety. It will be used in virtual and hybrid classroom settings this year.

Cox said bruising to the neck, torso or ears in a child under four likely indicates that someone has injured a child.

“If you see a child with injuries and you don’t report, the worst feeling in the world is learning later that something more severe happened and it was preventable,” Cox said. “The goal of Child Welfare is to find help for these families and the first step is make a report. If you fail to act, that’s when you fail a child.”


Children who survive child abuse and neglect could end up reaping a shortened life span.

Such trauma eft unresolved or untreated can contribute to heart disease, diabetes and diabetes, which can shorten a person’ lifespan by up to 20 years.





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