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Conference aims to prevent child abuse

More than 650 social workers, nurses, councilors, child protective workers, attorneys, law enforcement officers and others gathered for the 29th annual Conference on Prevention of Child Abuse at the Omni Mandalay Hotel in Las Colinas Feb 23-24. The two-day, interactive event was presented by Prevent Child Abuse Texas (PCAT) in cooperation with State Child Fatality Review Team Committee, Texas Council of Child Welfare Boards and the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“We’re having a two day conference primarily focusing on preventing child abuse,” said Wendell Teltow, M. Ed., Executive Director of PCAT. “We want to prevent it from ever occurring. To do that, we also have to work with the abused and the survivors. We’ve got people from schools here, people from treatment therapy programs and education service centers. We’ve got the whole gambit. We’re hoping that by providing a wide array of information to a lot of different professions we can start making a difference back in our local communities. That’s the ultimate goal.

“It doesn’t do any good if we’re one state-wide conference, and we don’t give [attendees] information that they can take back. One of the things we found out about child abuse and child abuse prevention is people want to do something about it, but they don’t know what to do. So we’re trying to give them ideas and programs they can take back to do whatever they can in their local communities to prevent child abuse from ever occurring,” Teltow said.

The conference featured a variety of keynote speakers including Harvey Karp, MD, MA, who discussed a promising strategy to calm infant crying, promote sleep, and reduce neglect and abuse; Christopher S. Greeley, MD, MS, FAAP, who discussed the impact of adversity and disparity on child health; and James M. Hmurovish, President and CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America, who delivered a lecture entitled “Start the Love Right Always”.

“Kids who have been abused, when they become parents, they’re six times more likely to abuse their own children as someone who wasn’t abused,” Teltow said. “So, we tend to see the cycle perpetuate. We also know that a lot of the kids don’t even know they’re being abused. They think all families are raised like that, be it sexual abuse, physical abuse or neglect.

“We know that to make a difference in child abuse it’s going to have to be a local solution. We cannot make a difference in child abuse at the national level, state level or even county level. It has got to be the local community, neighborhood, school district or the lowest denominator that we can get. That’s where we will start making a difference. We’re preventing child abuse one child at a time. We’re not going to help 100 kids at a time,” he said.

Conference attendees participated in sixty workshops and breakout sessions that discussed many aspects of child abuse with information including immigration remedies for foreign born victims of child abuse, child abuse from the perspective of survivors, solutions for the sexually abusive youth, the roles of the medical examiner and child death review teams in “undetermined” deaths, and bullying, cybercrimes and social media.

Other breakout sessions included predicting where maltreatment will occur in the future, sex and the law, promoting child well-being through interdisciplinary collaboration, ethics in child abuse prevention, turning tragedy into opportunity, understanding the impacts of prenatal alcohol exposure, child abuse data trends, intensive therapeutic group for bilingual adolescent females who have experience sexual abuse and more.

“For me personally, when my oldest son (7) was 11 months old, he was physically abused in daycare,” said Libby Carroll, member of PCAT Board of Directors. “He was shaken and beaten. Given the state laws in Texas, his perpetrator is still free. [The person] never saw a day in court. The last I heard the individual is still working at a day care, so someone else’s child is in danger.

“For me, it’s educating the public of what goes on and what we need to do to protect our children. After everything that my son and I have been through, this conference is kind of healing by working here and educating the public,” she said.