Juneau pediatrician wins national award

Dr. Brown recognized for more than 40 years of work to prevent child abuse and neglect

Posted: Wednesday, April 15, 2009

During his more than 40-year career, Juneau pediatrician George Brown of Glacier Pediatrics has contributed to the identification and prevention of child abuse on at least three continents. Earlier this month, he received national recognition for his work.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Brown was presented the Ray E. Helfer Award on April 2 in Atlanta, Ga., during the 17th National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect. During his acceptance speech, he spoke of the "valuable lesson" learned from pediatric pioneers such as Helfer.

"The only reason humankind still survives on our planet Earth is because of mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts and some brothers and fathers," Brown said. "In honor of Dr. Helfer and the tradition of his teaching, I thank you. This award is really to honor the mothers and grandmothers who have lived, who live today, and who will live in all the tomorrows."

Named after the late pediatrician who worked at the University of Colorado in the 1960s, the Ray E. Helfer Award is given annually by the National Alliance of Children's Trust and Prevention Funds and the American Academy of Pediatrics. It is awarded to a pediatrician who has made a demonstrated contribution to preventing child abuse and neglect before it occurs and who has worked to support Children's Trust Funds.

"(Helfer) understood, from the work that was done in Denver, that most people don't want to abuse their children," Brown said of the essence of such work. "Most people who do, do it because they were abused when they were children. He also understood that to help prevent this means providing comprehensive and lasting community health education and financial resources for families."

In addition to highlighting Child Abuse Prevention Month, Brown said winning the award has helped fuel his passion.

"I continue to learn the societal-changing challenges of child abuse prevention," Brown said. "Through education conferences, journals, books and hands-on experiences with the field's pioneers ... and many others, especially mothers, grandmothers, volunteer home visitors, parents, attorneys, social workers and public health nurses, I continue to share the vital message that all children are valuable, and all of us can learn to practice respect for them."

Even since starting as a public health physician in the 1960s at the Alaska Native Medical Center, Brown has made child abuse and neglect the focus of his career. He has spread his message of prevention in such places as Kenya, Haiti, Vermont and Hawaii.

Brown and his wife, Carolyn Brown, an obstetrics and gynecological physician, have worked and consulted with Helfer, C. Henry Kempe, Brandt Steele and several other pediatric pioneers. Brown was the very first recipient of the C. Henry Kempe Award for his work in child abuse prevention, presented to him in 1986 at the First International Congress of Child Abuse Prevention in Sydney, Australia.

According to Teresa Rafael, executive director for the National Alliance of Children's Trust and Prevention Funds, there are few pediatricians who have Brown's breadth and depth of experience.

"I have had the pleasure and honor of working with many people of stature in the field of child abuse and neglect prevention during my career," Rafael said. "Dr. Brown is among those who have devoted their entire lives to finding ways that help parents keep their children safe and give them every opportunity to live healthy, productive lives. Our world and the lives of countless parents and children are better because of his selfless contributions."

As a general pediatrician working with the Alaska Native Health Service and the Division of Public Health Child Study Center from 1965 to 1975, Brown helped start the first intervention and prevention services for child abuse and neglect in Alaska.

While practicing pediatrics in the Mat-Su Valley in the 1980s, he promoted the passage of the Alaska Children's Trust Fund. He then continued child abuse prevention work for 12 years in Vermont with the Community Child Protection Network; Vermont SafeKids Coalition; State Child Fatality Review Committee, a local community parenting center; and Prevent Child Abuse Vermont's shaken baby syndrome and sexual abuse prevention projects.

Looking back, Brown said he has more hope for children today than when he first started practicing 40 years ago.

"The public is now aware of how vulnerable children are and what they need early on, not just to thrive and survive, but to excel and be creative," Brown said. "The world is much better off for children than it was. We're already preventing child abuse a lot better than we think we are."

Since returning to practice in Juneau, Brown provides medical evaluations as part of the Southeast Alaska Child Advocacy Center Multidisciplinary Team. Most recently, he was invited to be a member of the Alaska Children's Trust Statewide Prevention Steering Committee, which began meeting in early 2008 to develop a statewide vision for the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Brown made significant contributions toward the development of this vision and to the success of the Statewide Prevention Summit in November 2008.

"What we are doing is starting some community action meetings with people to talk about what can be done to prevent this," Brown said of his work on the committee. "Because one of the problems is ... people come up with these documents that are really thick and they have all these ideas ... but we also know there are so many of those things that people get and they put them on the bookshelf to collect dust. We don't think that is going work as well as what we're trying to do."

As one way to reintroduce child abuse prevention, Brown said there will be a training camp - "Community Café" to be held April 27 at Birchwood Camp in Chugiak - designed to teach participants how to foster meaningful dialogues and support and strengthen families within their communities.

"Our goal with the Alaska Children's Trust Fund is to make Alaska the safest state in the union for children within at least 30 years," Brown said. "That sounds like a long time, but we know it's going to take more time and we have to keep working on it."

For more information about the training, contact Panu Lucier, executive director of Alaska Children's Trust Fund, at akchildrenstrust@alaska.net or 907-248-7676.

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or kim.andree@juneauempire.com.

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