Child Abuse Conference Aims to Prevent and Treat Problem

Dr. Steven Choy
Dr. Steven Choy
David Louis
David Louis

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Six children a day are beaten or neglected to death. That's according to the US Advisory Board on Child Abuse and neglect. And one child advocate says he thinks the problem is worse in this state! What can be done to stop this?

A national child abuse conference wraps up today. 430 people from around the country flew to Hawaii to talk about this problem. Coordinators say the conference is held here because it's aimed at Hawaii workers.

According to Hawaii neglect and abuse experts, tens of thousands of suspected cases of child, adolescent and adult abuse are reported in Hawaii each year. Kapi'olani Child Protection Center, Prevent Child Abuse Hawaii, and the Alliant International University's Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma hosted the 4th Annual Hawaii Conference on Preventing, Assessing & Treating Child, Adolescent & Adult Trauma, March 28-30, at the Ala Moana Hotel.

For the first time ever in Hawaii, this year's conference marks a significant leap ahead in the prevention and treatment of abuse in Hawaii. In the past, Hawaii's various abuse and trauma organizations have held their own conferences or training sessions, but the conference this year has been expanded to include statewide participation by more than 30 community organizations and professionals who specialize in child and adult neglect and abuse. The conference will present the latest research, prevention, assessment and intervention techniques concerning various aspects of child, adolescent and adult trauma and maltreatment, and the long-term effects if they go untreated. Conference speakers include both nationally acclaimed and local abuse experts.

"Substance abuse, domestic violence, and child and elderly abuse continue to be a real problem within our community," said Dr. Steven Choy, Director of the Kapi'olani Child Protection Center and lead coordinator of the 4th Annual Hawaii Conference. "Our goal is to stop abuse from happening, so having professionals throughout Hawaii coming together at the same conference holds the promise that our collaborative efforts to recognize, treat and prevent abuse will bring us closer to that goal."

The conference has been designed to improve the skills and techniques of those who come in contact with victims of abuse including educators, mental health and healthcare providers, social workers, law enforcement, clergy, counselors, community advocates and others who work with traumatized and abused individuals and families.

One speaker is David Louis, a child abuse survivor. "I was abused physically and sexually by my biological family, then in foster care I was severely abused." He tells his story in the book Scars That Can Heal, and now dedicates his life to helping abused children.

Louis developed the impression over the years in his work as a child welfare advocate, system consultant, and trainer, that Hawaii has a higher rate of child abuse than the rest of the nation. "It is culturally acceptable here to hear your neighbor hitting your child and do nothing about it."

Other child advocates, like Steven Choy, PhD, refute that idea. "Hawaii in general is lower than the nation in child abuse cases." Choy is the director of the Kapi'olani Child Protection Center. Dr. Choy has specialized in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of child maltreatment for the past 29 years. He performs psychological evaluations, provides treatment for traumatized children and adolescents, and is one of the state's strongest advocates for abuse prevention.

Under his leadership, Hawaii is one of a few pilot sites using Parent- Child Interaction Therapy as an intervention for traumatized children. Dr. Choy is regularly called as an expert witness for the Courts on issues of child maltreatment. He serves as psychology consultant for the Hawaii Juvenile Drug Court Program as well as the state's Multidisciplinary Child Protection Team, and is a member of various state boards that deal with child welfare issues.

But Choy admits reports of child abuse in Hawaii spiked in recent years. "There was a 40% increase in 3 year period around 2002. At that point we were all devastated by these major increases."

That's why he helped start this conference. "In Hawaii it's part of the culture not to share problems, not to talk about problems. A lot of the difficulties are hidden in Hawaii."

His message to parents? "It's very hard to parent children and there's no shame in asking for help."

Dr. Choy says 70% - 100% of the nation's prison imates were abused children, and 60% of patients in psychiatric facilities were abused. There's a message to the community at large, too: child abuse is everyone's problem because it sends out a ripple effect.