Preventing child abuse: how parents can get help before it’s too late

Jan 27, 2024, 3:06 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — In Utah, there are more than 10,000 child abuse cases per year, higher than the national average. 

The National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome reported three cases of infant abuse in the state just within the last week. 

One of the victims, a 2-month-old from Riverdale, died from the abuse.  

“We always try to think of it as ‘that’s not going to happen to me.’ Well, we need to acknowledge that it might. It might happen in my family, in your family, in anyone’s family,” said Dr. Tagrid Ruiz, a child abuse pediatrician with Primary Children’s Hospital.  

Ruiz said that parents typically prepare for having a baby, like by setting up the nursery and buying clothes and blankets, but they don’t necessarily plan for the frustrations and challenges.  

“So, when and if that day arrives, we don’t really know what to do about it, and many times we feel as parents this isolation of ‘this is just me, this is my stress, my frustration, whatever else is going on. And there’s a problem with me and I can’t speak about it with anyone else.'” 

What often triggers child abuse?

Ruiz says more often than not, frustration from a baby’s inconsolable crying is what triggers physical abuse.  

Some parents may feel that no matter what they do to try to calm them, their baby will not stop crying. But Ruiz reminds us this is a normal part of child development.  

“It’s OK to just put them down,” she said. “They will eventually stop. It’s nothing that you were doing wrong. This is not about you not being able to soothe your baby. There’s nothing wrong with you. You just have to give it a moment, and they’ll get through that moment.” 

She said it’s important for parents to take time to de-escalate when they are frustrated.  

“Those frustrations are very common and shared, and until we start talking about them, until we start acknowledging that loving being a parent and loving your child and being frustrated at a number of times coexist, then we’re not going to create that space to respond to those moments,” she said.  

Ruiz also said it’s crucial to have a network of safe people you can reach out. Even if you may not think so, people want to help, she said.  

No parent has to parent alone. There are resources available. You can call the National Parent Helpline at 855-427-2736. You can also visit a local Family Support Center. Ruiz also said Prevent Child Abuse Utah has resources for families. 

Other child abuse resources:

  • Utah Domestic Violence Coalition operates a confidential statewide, 24-hour domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465). Resources are also available online: udvc.org. The statewide child abuse and neglect hotline is 1-855-323-DCFS (3237).

Help with Children

Those who feel stressed out with a child, who need a break or who feel like they need counseling or training can reach out to one of the following agencies:

  • The Family Support Center has 15 locations throughout the state and offers a free crisis nursery for parents who have to keep appointments or who are stressed out. They also offer counseling and family mentoring. Call 801-955-9110 or visit familysupportcenter.org/contact.php for more information.
  • Prevent Child Abuse Utah provides home visiting in Weber, Davis, and Box Elder counties. Parent Educators provide support, education, and activities for families with young children. Their statewide education team offers diverse trainings on protective factors, digital safety, bullying, and child sex trafficking. They are available for in-person or virtual trainings and offer free online courses for the community at pcautah.org.
  • The Office of Home Visiting works with local agencies to provide home visits to pregnant women and young families who would like to know more about being parents. Home visitors are trained and can provide information about breastfeeding, developmental milestones, toilet training, nutrition, mental health, home safety, child development, and much more. Find out more at homevisiting.utah.gov.
  • The Safe Haven law allows birth parents in Utah to safely and anonymously give up custody of their newborn child at any hospital in the state, with no legal consequences and no questions asked. The child’s mother can drop off the child, or the mother can ask someone else to do it for her. The newborns should be dropped off at hospitals that are open 24 hours a day. Newborns given up in this manner will be cared for by the hospital staff, and the Utah Division of Child and Family Services will find a home for the child. For more information, visit utahsafehaven.org or call the 24-hour hotline at 866-458-0058.

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Preventing child abuse: how parents can get help before it’s too late