Specialist helps to improve Kentucky's ranking in child abuse deaths

Dr. Melissa Currie
Dr. Melissa Currie
Randy Coe
Randy Coe

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - WAVE 3 has learned that Kentucky is now ranked 18th in the nation in the number of children fatally abused. Indiana ranks 20th as the worst state in the nation for deaths caused by child abuse. In 2009, Kentucky was ranked number one in the nation in the number of children who die at the hands of child abusers.

The report is called "We Can Do Better" and is released by the Every Child Matters Education Fund. The most recent numbers released by the report have shown significant improvement for the state, largely due in part to the work of a unique mission lead by a Pediatric Forensic Specialist with the University of Louisville. Dr. Melissa Currie is a child abuse doctor who leads a team that goes right to work when a child is brought to the hospital.

"We take photographs of any injuries that are visible, we document the history provided by caregivers to explain the injuries in the children," said Dr. Currie. "Then we work with the medical folks to make sure all the right studies are done, lab, x-rays, etc."

If a case is determined to be child abuse, then the authorities and police are notified.

Dr. Currie's work is funded by Kosair Charities, known for providing funds to care for medically underserved children in the Kentuckiana area. The statistics published ranking Kentucky top in the nation for killings from child abuse were so disturbing, according to Randy Coe with Kosair Charities, that the organization felt it critical to get involved.

"When we learned that Dr. Melissa Currie was available to come to Louisville and throughout this state to change the lives of children for the better we decided we would put $300,000 into helping her be successful," said Randy Coe, president of Kosair Charities.

So far, Dr. Currie's success is having an impact.

"When we first started, Kentucky was first in the nation for child abuse fatality rates and as of the last report that was released we've fallen now to 18th. Our goal is to be last," Dr. Currie said.

During our investigation for this story we found an example of the type of death Dr. Currie is helping to prevent. In 2004 Nick Ratliff was convicted of killing his girlfriend's two-year-old daughter. The Kentucky Supreme Court opinion upholding his conviction tells a chilling tale. The child was admitted to Three Rivers Hospital in Lawrence County, Kentucky with a broken arm. One month later, she was admitted again for lesions on her mouth, belly and wrist, and bruises on her jaw. Four days later, she was taken back to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

"Unfortunately there are people out there who hurt their children and when they bring those children in to the hospital, they don't tell us what really happened. They tell us something that on the surface sounds plausible so you have to have folks who have the time and expertise and the training to dig under the surfaces of that history to help understand picking out the inconsistencies in what they're telling us," said Dr. Currie. "Sometimes we only have one or two chances to see these children in a medical setting before they come back fatally injured."

There is now a statewide initiative to eliminate child physical abuse in Kentucky and Indiana. It's called the Partnership to Eliminate Child Abuse and involves the University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky, Indiana University, Kosair Children's Hospital, and media throughout the state among other partners.

If you suspect that a child is being abused call the Kentucky Child Protection Hotline at 877-597-2331. It's available 24 hours a day, every day. If you are in Indiana, the hotline number is 800-800-5556.

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