If you could learn how to save a child's life, would you eagerly undergo the free training? It is tragic that too few people -- including doctors -- will do this.
Marisa Kwiatkowski reports today on the struggles the Indiana Department of Child Services faces in providing adequate protection of children.
A recent study of 15,003 child-injury visits to doctors in more than 40 states found that more than one-quarter of doctors who believed a child's injuries were caused by abuse or neglect failed to contact child protective services.
That might be the result of uncertainty about the cause of the injury or even fear of getting involved in legal proceedings. It could also be the result of distrust of the system set up to protect children from harm.
"In the past, we were known as the Department of Child Snatchers," said James Payne, director of the Indiana Department of Child Services.
Now, however, the agency is bringing in the help of extending family, pastors, school counselors, favorite coaches and others in an attempt to involve family and friends. Removing the child from the home might not be necessary if a good support network is established, Payne said.
That support system should include the child's health care providers as well.
Indiana law requires health care providers to document suspected abuse and to report these cases to the authorities. Failing to comply could result in a misdemeanor charge of failing to report.
"Physicians have a lot of different opportunities to protect children from abuse and neglect," said Dr. Antoinette Laskey, who chairs the state's Child Fatality Review Team. "If you don't do something, it may be the child who pays the ultimate price."
Yet when the state tried to get emergency room doctors and other physicians who deal with child injuries to go to Indianapolis for two days of training in how to detect symptoms of abuse, the response was poor, Payne said.
Their periodic attendance at this type of training should be mandatory. Bring the training to the regional medical school campuses, and keep the training session short, because the doctors' time is valuable. But so are the lives of the children they could save.
The onus to detect and report suspected abuse should not be entirely on physicians. Far from it.
"Families need to be more engaged and involved," Payne said. That includes grandparents, aunts, uncles and others.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. It is a good time for the public to learn the symptoms of abuse so they can watch for it. The public should also take this month to encourage doctors and the DCS to arrange short but effective training sessions.
Our children deserve no less than our eagerness to protect them.
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