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Experts urge community involvement to prevent and report child abuse during pandemic

Local hospital adds new team to identify victims
Posted at 7:31 AM, Apr 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-15 07:31:26-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — It’s an important topic and one that is hard to talk about. April is Child Abuse Prevention month, and some experts believe, with the pandemic, there has been an uptick in cases.

“We have seen an increase in the number of children that have presented with non-accidental trauma injury, which is what we call child abuse," said Ashley Barquin, the administrative director with Palm Beach Children’s Hospital.

Barquin said they are working to address this issue head on. The created a new team at the hospital better equipped to identify what they call non-accidental traumas.

“We meet once a month and discuss different cases, but we also have put in practices and protocols,” she said.

Barquin believes the uptick is fueled by frustrations surrounding the pandemic.

“People are home, the kids are home more than they are at school,” she said. “The stress level of the pandemic from parents, care givers.”

This month, Palm Beach Children’s Hospital partnered with Little Smiles, a local non-profit, to hold the “Say Goodnight to Child Abuse” event.

Nicole Mercado, the executive director of Little Smiles, said her non-profit works with local hospitals and law enforcement agencies.

“A higher increase in phone calls we get from our law enforcement agencies about kids who are being removed from their homes and kids that need basic essentials,” she explained. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in the past year in that as well.”

Mercado stressed the need for awareness among adults in the community and the need to provide a safe space to allow child to speak up.

“If you notice something is a little amiss, if you notice a child is acting a little abnormal outside of their normal character, if there is anything that is a cause for concern, bring that to the attention of authorities, social worker, people in your community that are in a position to be able to help,” said Mercado.

Barquin stressed the need to empower children.

“Whether it’s law enforcement, any type of first responder, nurses, doctors, teachers that, that is their safe place and we will get them get the help that they need in order to stop child abuse or prevent it,” she said. “That is our whole goal: to prevent it, so they don’t end up in the hospital or even worse than that.”

It’s a simple reminder that goes a long way to protecting kids in our community. If you see something, say something.