Voices Lecture Series: John Bickel, Texas Children's Hospital

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Thu, Oct 16, 2014
Hazel B. Kerper Courtroom

As a community outreach coordinator at Texas Children’s Hospital, John Bickel’s mission is to educate doctors, nurses, police, fire and emergency medical personnel, teachers, child protective services and the public about the signs and symptoms of child abuse and neglect.

John Bickel
John Bickel
Bickel is assigned to Child Abuse Pediatrics at the hospital, one of the largest programs of its kind in the country to increase the awareness, identification, evaluation and treatment of this growing social issue. Among the programs offered are inpatient and outpatient consulting services; a full-time sexual abuse clinic at the Harris County Children’s Assessment Center; and an outpatient child protective health clinic. The program also includes pediatrician training in child abuse, sexual assault nurse practitioners, forensic nurses, social workers and child life specialists.

According to ChildHelp, a national prevention and treatment organization, more than four children die every day in the U.S. as a result of abuse or neglect. A case of child abuse is reported every 10 seconds.

Outline of child's hand in an adult's handA clinical social worker, Bickel has dedicated his life to fighting child maltreatment for the last 16 years, first working with sexual abuse cases at Children’s Protective Services and later at Texas Children’s Hospital in the emergency room, evaluating children for signs of abuse. His youngest abuse victim was just days old; the oldest pediatric cases extend up to 18 years old. His youngest sexual assault victim was one month old.

For the last three years, Bickel has served as the community outreach coordinators, sharing what he has learned about child abuse with many different groups. As part of the education program, he emphasizes detection and prevention by focusing on the signs and symptoms of maltreatment, the biomechanics of injuries and how they may indicate underlying abuse, the importance of family history, conditions that mimic abuse, how to document injury findings, and local resources for medical consultation or service referrals.

Nurse taking care of a young boy.“We want to help every citizen to be an advocate for children,” said Bickel. “It is not just a job for Child Protective Services. Every day, many people are involved with children in day care, in doctors’ offices, at school. It is really crucial for everyone to recognize the problem and what they can do about it.”

During the Voices lecture, Bickel will discuss the impact of adverse childhood experiences over a person’s lifetime. “These stressors during childhood can build up, creating poor health as well as physical and mental health conditions,” said Bickel.

According to the “Adverse Child Experience Study,” a collaborative effort between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego, childhood adversities, such as abuse, neglect and family dysfunction, are major risk factors for illness, death and poor quality of life. The study suggests that children who experience these adversities suffer health problems as adults, such as alcoholism, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, fetal death, illicit drug use, ischemic heart disease, liver disease, risk for intimate partner violence, multiple sexual partners, sexually transmitted diseases, suicide attempt, and unintended and adolescent pregnancies.

“Childhood abuse, neglect and exposure to other traumatic stressors, which are termed adverse child experiences (ACE), are common,” according to the report, which surveyed 17,000 patients at a health clinic. “Almost two-thirds of our study participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one of five reported three or more ACE. The short and long term outcomes of these childhood exposures include a multitude of health and social problems.”

To help break the cycle and to assist victims of child abuse and neglect, Bickel also will discuss career opportunities available in the field. Many police departments offer positions to assist victims of crime, both for adults and children. Schools are always in need of teachers or psychologists to help identify or address the problem. Finally, trained social workers can become advocates for children in the criminal justice system.

“There are plenty of jobs around Texas,” said Bickel. “Texas is growing and there is a high rate of child maltreatment here.”

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