Posted by Sharon Schendel on Dec 02, 2018
Brett Mattei presents Dr. Shalon Nienow with a challenge coin in thanks for her presentation
Dr. Shalon Nienow, a pediatrician at Rady’s Hospital who specializes in treating children who have been abused, joined our November 29, 2018 meeting to outline ways to recognize and report child abuse.  Although many people may think of child abuse as physical injury, the majority (60%) of child abuse referrals are for neglect, which can include failure of parents or guardians to provide adequate food, medical care and/or education.  Over one quarter of all referrals are for sexual abuse. An estimated 1 in 3 females and 1 in 20 males are victims of sexual abuse by the age of 17, although these rates, particularly for boys, may be higher since many victims never disclose their sexual abuse. Children can also experience psychological abuse, most commonly bearing witness to domestic violence.  In 2017, San Diego County Child Welfare Services received over 50,0000 allegations of child abuse, of which nearly 70% were investigated. In total, 11% of allegations were substantiated.
Dr. Nienow said that there are multiple factors that contribute to the incidence of child abuse.  Among factors associated with adults, substance abuse is foremost, but domestic violence, mental health issues, lack of education about parenting, or simply inappropriate expectations of how a child should behave are also prominent. 
Typical childhood behaviors such as excessive crying can provoke abusive behavior, as can toilet training accidents, interruptions of parental activities or refusal to eat.  Frequently, children placed in the care of non-relatives such as new boyfriends/girlfriends, who are often unwilling caregivers, are at risk of abuse.
Dr. Nienow next defined the term “mandated reporter”, which in California encompasses a broad range of occupations and volunteer activities.  Rotarians who are youth-certified and participating in Rotary-sponsored events such as RYLA are, in fact, mandated reporters. Mandated reporters who fail to report suspected abuse may be held legally liable.  Dr. Nienow emphasized that all suspicions of abuse should be reported- reports are kept confidential and the suspicions need not correct.  But in cases where abuse is occurring, timely reporting can help children, and their caregivers get the help and resources they need. 
Dr. Nienow noted that people often don’t report because they don’t want to get in trouble, don’t want to get involved, or don’t think that they’re right in their suspicions. But she said that the question they should ask themselves is: “Could I be right?”  
In terms of how to empower children to avoid abuse, Dr. Nienow said that teaching kids the proper terms for body parts is important, both so they can articulate what’s happened to them and so that they don’t feel that such parts are secret or shameful to discuss.  Children should also learn that no one has a right to touch their body without their consent and be able to identify several adults who are not their parents who they could tell if they are being victimized. 
If you suspect a child is being victimized, please report your suspicions. For emergent situations, dial 911, or call the 24-hour hotline at San Diego County Child Welfare Services: 1.800.344.6000.  Your actions could help save a child.
Thank you to Marty Peters for arranging to have Dr. Nienow speak to our club.