Doctors, Communities Play Vital Role In Protecting Children

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Joelle Smith is a happy, healthy six-year-old child, but when her mom lost her job and her dad's salary was cut, life at home began getting much more tense. Studies show that as families face difficult times economically, they place more stress on their children and abusive situations have a greater potential to arise.

Health care professionals are often the first to identify the warning signs of child abuse. “The health care field is uniquely positioned to notice physical or mental changes in a child which could be an indication of abuse,” said Deputy Secretary of Health for Children's Medical Services (CMS), Joseph J. Chiaro, M.D. “This vigilance leads to earlier detection and reporting of potential abuse cases.”

The Department of Health provides support and interventions through our Child Protection Teams and Sexual Abuse Treatment Programs to both respond to these cases and support prevention initiatives at the community level.


Health care professionals can play an important role in abuse prevention. Seen as credible sources for information, health care professionals can teach parents what to expect in their child's development, how to build a strong relationship with their child, and where to go for help if they need it.

Child abuse prevention is also disease prevention since research shows that childhood abuse has the potential for major health impacts through adulthood. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study found strong links between childhood maltreatment and later-life health. Children who had been abused were more likely to engage in dangerous health behaviors in adulthood, including:

103% more likely to smoke
43% more likely to become suicidal
103% more likely to become alcoholics
192% more likely to develop a drug addiction
95% more likely to become obese, which leads to a greater risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and heart attack
More likely to have higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS
More likely to be involved in teenage pregnancy

Florida's communities can help children like Joelle grow up healthy and safe by creating environments where children are nurtured and parents are supported.