A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds in the United States. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect and encourage support for children and families.
In this blog post you’ll learn more about Shamika Byars, MSN, CPNP, a Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR) Child Protection Team (CPT) member who provides medical care and compassionate support for abused and neglected children. Shamika also shares insight on how we can all take part in the fight against child abuse.
Q&A with Shamika Byars, certified pediatric nurse practitioner and child abuse prevention advocate
What is the Child Protection Team?
The Child Protection Team at CHoR is a group of healthcare providers dedicated to providing the highest standard of medical care to victims of child physical and sexual abuse. We are staffed by three nurse practitioners under the direction of Dr. Robin Foster, director of CHoR’s pediatric ER and a board certified child abuse expert. We provide 24/7 care for victims of acute sexual assault and scheduled evaluations for victims of sexual abuse and physical abuse. We work closely with several community organizations to contribute to the multidisciplinary approach to handling child maltreatment cases and advocating for child abuse prevention. Last year we provided care to over 800 abused children.
Why did you decide to work with the Child Protection Team?
I actually decided to work with the Child Protection Team after completing a clinical placement with the team during my training to become a nurse practitioner. I didn’t even know that child abuse clinics existed before that exposure. I was aware of the need of such services, but had no working knowledge of how the ‘system’ functioned. That clinical rotation left a lasting impression with me as I worked as a registered nurse in CHoR’s pediatric emergency room. When a nurse practitioner position became available, I felt compelled to apply for it. Here I am, almost 11 years later…
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that I am taking an active role in stopping and preventing more children from being abused and helping those that have been abused, find some security or peace of mind.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
I tell people frequently that “I love my job, but hate why I do it”. I say that because it is one thing to have a societal understanding that child abuse occurs, but a completely different experience to look it in the face (literally) on a daily basis. To hear children, often as young as 2 or 3, recount their experiences of abuse can be a very daunting task. It’s also difficult knowing that while physical wounds will heal, the emotional scarring can (and often does) last a lifetime.
What advice do you have for victims of abuse?
I make it a point to let victims know that the abuse is not their fault. The things that happened to them should never be kept a secret. Most importantly, I let victims know that they are not alone – they have me and other people in my field available to support them.
How can everyone help?
The best thing you can do is to not turn a blind eye to abuse and learn to recognize the signs and symptoms:
- Unexplained bruises, cuts, burns or other injuries
- Withdrawn behavior
- Problems in school
- Fear of adults
- Mood/behavior changes
- Inappropriate interest in or knowledge of sexual acts
- Not wanting to go home
If you think a child is being abused:
- LISTEN. If a child discloses that he or she has been abused by someone, the most important thing you can do is listen carefully.
- PROVIDE a safe environment. Tell the child it was not his or her fault.
- CONTROL your emotions.
- HELP. DO NOT investigate, make promises, or notify the parents or the caregiver. Report suspected abuse by calling your local law enforcement agency or child protective services agency. You can also call the Virginia Child Protective Services 24-Hour Hotline at 1-800-552-7096.
Understand that child abuse occurs in every race and at every socioeconomic status. It occurs within all regions of the state and at all levels of education. While we see a lot of children every year, there are still thousands that we do not see. It is vital that everyone take an active role in their respective communities to prevent child abuse.
Child Protection Team location and appointments
CHoR’s Child Protection Team is located within the pediatric emergency room:
Critical Care Hospital, Ground Floor
1213 E. Clay Street
Richmond, VA 23219
To make a referral or appointment, call (804) 828-7400.