SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — The coronavirus has affected more than our physical health. It has sparked stress on finances, mental health and the family dynamic.
The crisis also has put children in a vulnerable position. As the stress in the house has grown, so has the chance for a spike in child abuse.
The ArkLaTex has some of the highest amounts of child abuse cases in the country, making the pandemic even more problematic.
Dr. Jennifer Olson Rodriguez is a pediatrician with Oschner LSU Health and an assistant professor at LSU Health Sciences Center. She specializes in suspected child abuse cases and knowing what signs to look for when it comes to abuse.
It’s up to our community to know how to protect our children, she said.
“For some children, their safety net was things like school where they had mandated reporters that saw them every day and could check in. Some kids were getting their nutrition through school," Rodriguez explained.
"Part of it is being aware. If you know there’s a family that maybe has financial stress or maybe food insecurity. Reach out to that family and ask if you can help with a bill or if they’re doing OK,” she advised.
"Oftentimes when children end up in danger potentially with abuse, we really have overwhelmed families. So getting involved actually helps them be a stronger, healthy family. "
People often grow up thinking discipline has to do with spanking or corporal punishment, Rodriguez said.
“Actually with studies that have been done, when you have a child that has frequent spankings, they often have increased aggression. Especially at risk are the 18-month-old children. If we’re spanking to punish them, we may cause physical injury to them and even to the older kids if we lose control.”
Abuse victims could actually have changes to their bodies, the doctor explained.
“The stress hormones in children that are abused go higher. So you have these children who are frightened when you’re just trying to change behavior. Their stress hormones go up and they get hardwired in their brain that someone’s coming at me and they might duck or they might fight back. Their brain starts to change the anatomy; and they actually have loss of their gray matter in one of the studies that they did, so they have a lower IQ level.”
Rodriguez said what’s more ideal is positive parenting.
“It’s when a kid does something really great, you praise them for that. You model good behavior. You teach them when I want to get something you use ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Guide the behavior you want to see instead of saying negatives.”
Rodriguez has seen patients at the Cara Center in Shreveport for many years. The center was a vision of Sister Rose Marie McDermott 20 years ago, and it’s been a safe place for kids ever since.
Donations to CHRISTUS and the Children’s Miracle Network have allowed the center to offer free training on how to spot child abuse.
Angel Rogers, the Cara Center’s coordinator, said the two-hour course has become a vital way to educate our community.
“It’s very important that we are able to provide with this training because before the age of 18, 1 in 10 children are sexually abused. And out of those children, 90 percent of those kids know their abuser," Rogers explained.
"Gone are the days of stranger danger. Now we’re hoping to train people to recognize signs of what may be going on in their very own home or in the home of somebody else that they know.”
Right now, the center has been working on a way to train people virtually until they get the all-clear to offer classes in person. You can call the Cara Center or the CHRISTUS Foundation at (318) 681-6781 to set up a time to take the course.