Children’s Hospital specialists report on child abuse cases during holiday season

The holiday season is supposed to be a time of happiness and peace for many families and friends.  But for some children, it can represent pain and sorrow.  Specialists at T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital at Erlanger are treating approximately two to four children every week for injuries they receive from abuse.  While abuse is evident throughout the year, child abuse can be just as prevalent during the holiday season.


The holiday season can be especially difficult for families in stressful situations.  Some adults may experience financial burdens and are unable to provide for the children.  Others may be overloaded with too many tasks trying to make the holiday perfect for everyone else.

“Unfortunately, these are the times when children are caught in the middle,” said Dr. Karla Garcia, team member of Children’s Hospital Child Protection Team.  “Stress and tension become too much to bear, and children are inadvertently neglected or abused.  Adults must remember that lashing out does not mean they are terrible parents.  Everyone, in all economic and educational levels, can feel stress and tension.  What is important is that the adult recognizes the tension before it gets out of control and removes the child or themselves from any possible danger.”

Placing a child in a safe place and walking away from the situation will allow adults to find ways to calm down through deep breaths or focusing on something completely different until they are comfortable enough to safely interact with the child.

It is a personal decision of another adult to either intervene or report the suspected abuse.

“Some lashing out could be a minimal occurrence that requires the adult to see through the actual situation,” said Dr. Annamaria Church, team leader of Children’s Hospital Child Protection Team.  “Approaching the caretaker in a supportive way or acknowledging the child could possibly give the adult just enough time to realize the situation.  However, if the individual suspects abuse and the abuse has reached a level of reporting, then Tennessee law requires the individual to report it to local authorities or child and protective services.”

Child abuse can be presented in many different forms whether it is physical, sexual, neglect or drug abuse.  Signs may include bruising, cuts and scrapes, poor hygiene and personal care and behavior characteristics such as unusual acting out, withdrawing from situations, lack of focus or possessing extreme behaviors that are not normal for the child of the same age.

“Child abuse is more likely to be caused by a member of the family or someone the family knows,” said Dr. Darwin Koller, director of Children’s Hospital Emergency Services.  “Supervision is strongly encouraged if the child is spending time with acquaintances or people who are prone to abusive behavior.”

Tennessee offers a free helpline at 1-800-356-6767 for adults searching for support during stressful situations.  To report suspected abuse, individuals are encouraged to call 1-877-54-ABUSE (22873) or 911 for medical emergencies.