Kentucky Children’s Hospital at UK opens center to treat children who are harmed by abuse and neglect, in which Ky. ranks 14th

University of Kentucky and Kosair for Kids representatives celebrate opening of the Kosair for Kids Center for Safe & Healthy Children & Families at Kentucky Children’s Hospital. (Photo by Adam Padgett)

By Hilary Brown
University of Kentucky

Representatives from Kentucky Children’s Hospital and the nonprofit foundation Kosair for Kids cut the ribbon recently on the Kosair for Kids Center for Safe & Healthy Children and Families, a new clinic space for the treatment of children harmed by abuse and neglect at KCH, part of the University of Kentucky. This center was made possible by a $2 million gift from Kosair for Kids.

“I’ve spent the better part of my career looking at the challenges that Kentucky faces, especially when it comes to the ability of vulnerable Kentuckians to get care they desperately need,” said Mark D. Birdwhistell, vice president for health system administration and chief of staff, UK HealthCare. “I’ve seen how hard it can be to effect change for Kentucky’s vulnerable citizens, and that’s why I’m so proud of this new center and of what we’ve been able to accomplish with the partnership of Kosair for Kids.”

Kentucky ranks 14th in the country for child abuse and neglect; according to the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, in 2022, 11,002 children experienced neglect, 1,146 suffered physical abuse and 756 were victims of sexual abuse. Those numbers have decreased over the years, due largely to the efforts of Kosair for Kids and their partners across the state.

“Today we celebrate opening a center dedicated to giving the best to children who have experienced the worst, said Barry Dunn, Kosair for Kids president and CEO. “Our goal, our aspiration, is that this center serves as a beacon of hope for children who have experienced unfathomable trauma. We stand with them, united in purpose, on the road to healing. We are proud to call them a Kosair Kid, and we want to show them the love and care they deserve. Kosair for Kids is proud of this place, the skilled and dedicated staff on the front lines of this epidemic, and the growing alliance we have formed to protect all children.”

“I’m an ardent believer that you can’t separate physical health from mental and emotional health,” said Dr. Scottie B. Day, physician-in-chief at Kentucky Children’s Hospital. “Maltreatment and childhood trauma have effects that ripple out into adolescence and adulthood and continue to inform patterns of behavior for generations. Through our partnership with Kosair for Kids, we can disrupt generational cycles of abuse and make Kentucky much safer for kids.”

KCH is home to one of only two pediatric forensic medicine programs in Kentucky. Of the five child-abuse pediatricians practicing in Kentucky, four are at KCH’s Division of Pediatric Forensic Medicine along with specially trained advanced nurse practitioners, social workers and psychologists.
Features of the new clinic include:

  • Secure and private space to provide trauma-informed care, including three exam rooms and two therapy services rooms
  • Proximity to the Makenna David Pediatric Emergency Center and other services such as radiology and sedation with private entrance and egress to those sites
  • Space for therapeutic interventions, evidence storage and consultation with law enforcement and other partners
  • Technology to consult virtually with the child’s care team which may include state child protective services, guardian ad litem and law enforcement.

The pediatric forensics staff also provides regular education to medical students, family medicine providers as well as community organizations. They developed a core curriculum for the Department of Community Based Services in the Cabinet for Health and Family Services that includes 16 one-hour lectures. Forensics providers lead a multi-hour training to each new class of Kentucky State Police cadets, as well as continued education to healthcare providers in the community.

Children who are abused and neglected may suffer immediate physical injuries, but also may have emotional and psychological problems, such as anxiety or posttraumatic stress. Over the long term, children who are abused or neglected are also at increased risk for experiencing future violence victimization and perpetration, substance abuse, sexually transmitted infections, delayed brain development, lower educational attainment, and limited employment opportunities. Chronic abuse may result in toxic stress, which can change brain development and increase the risk for problems like posttraumatic stress disorder and learning, attention, and memory difficulties.

All Kentuckians are mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect. If you believe a child is being abused or neglected, call the Child Protection Hotline at 1-877-KYSAFE1 or 1-877-597-2331 or report online.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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