Stories about: child abuse

What parents need to know about recognizing and preventing child abuse

Child abuse is real. It happens—and not just to other people’s children.

The recent death of a toddler from injuries has frightened a lot of parents here in Massachusetts. While there are still many more questions than answers about what happened, a lot of parents are wondering what they can do to be sure nothing like this ever happens to their child.

This is a good thing to wonder—because there are absolutely things parents can do.

Be aware of signs of abuse.  Sometimes it’s obvious, like when a child is unconscious or has an obvious broken bone. But sometimes it’s not obvious. Parents should watch for:

  • Changes in behavior, such as sadness, anger or fear.  All kids may have occasional changes in behavior, and it doesn’t necessarily mean abuse, but anything recurrent or persistent should raise a red flag.
  • Unexplained injuries (including bruises or burns). There should always be an explanation, and it should make sense.
  • Recurrent injuries, explained or not.
  • Unusual behavior or statements from children—such as talking about sexual acts.
  • Nightmares, bedwetting or other signs of distress.

For more signs, in not just your children but others, check out this fact sheet from the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Season of pride

By S. Bryn Austin, ScD, director of Fellowship Research Training in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital

This past Saturday was Boston’s 42nd annual lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Pride parade. As I stood among the jubilant throngs, cheering on the joyfully endless stream of colorful marchers, cyclists, roller skaters and floats, I was struck by how much we have to be proud of here in Massachusetts. And I mean all of us, not just the LGBT community.

Boston Children's Hospital's presence at this year's LGBT Pride parade

In 2004, Massachusetts was the first state to legally recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry. Twenty years ago, we were the first state to establish—by executive order from then-Governor William Weld—Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA), which are vital school-based support groups for teens. Across the state, we have many outstanding community-based organizations providing valuable resources for LGBT youth. And right here at Boston Children’s Hospital, we’re a national leader in health care and research for LGBT youth.

Every milestone achieved on the path toward equality and inclusion is a direct result of the compassion and dedication of our whole community working together, gay and straight, transgender and nontransgender. We can all share in the season of pride.

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Studies explore gender identity and children

The journal Pediatrics released two studies this week that focused on the mental and physical wellbeing of children who don’t conform to typical gender roles.

The first study, led by Children’s Hospital Boston researcher S. Bryn Austin, ScD, indicates that kids who fail to adapt traditional gender stereotypes as children are at a significantly greater risk for physical, sexual and psychological abuse during childhood. These children are also more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in young adulthood.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Health and compiled data from almost 9,000 young adults. Participants were asked to recall their childhood experiences, including their favorite toys and games growing up. The types of charters they related to as children, which roles they adopted during pretend play and their earliest understanding of masculinity and femininity where all reported on as well. Researchers also asked participants to disclose information about any physical, sexual or emotional abuse they experienced at the hands of parents, other adults or older children. Finally, participants were screened for PSTD.

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Sexual abuse and children: do you know the warning signs?

For the past week the nation’s attention has been focused on the child sex abuse scandal engulfing Penn State’s football program. It’s a heartbreaking story that has triggered feelings of anger and horror in millions of people. It also has many parents wondering about the safety of their own children.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse of female and male children is more prevalent than many people realize and many cases go unreported. Children stay silent about their abuse for a number of different developmental, social or psychological factors.  In some instances the victim is too young or otherwise unable to tell anyone what has happened, and may have some confusion about what has taken place. Other times the child may be afraid their abuser will hurt them or their family if they tell anyone, or they are embarrassed, ashamed or blame themselves for what happened.

As troubling as it may sound, there are also many victims who never come forward because they are protecting the person who hurt them. It’s not unusual for the abuser to have a bond with the child so strong that the victim is unwilling to identify him or her for fear of getting the perpetrator in trouble. If the abuser is a person of high regard— like a respected authority figure, or popular coach or teacher—the victim may think no one will believe the story, or be angry with them for accusing a respected person.

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