It’s a tragic reality that sexual abuse of children is a widespread problem across the country. A 2006 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that one in four girls, and one in six boys, are sexually abused before the age of 18. In addition to finding out how to stop the abuse before it starts, the question of how to help a child once the abuse has occurred is vital.
After a child discloses the abuse, an appropriate response is extremely important to the child’s healing process. In the past, there was no mechanism for coordinating the services needed to respond to such a case. Instead, a child would be shuffled between various agencies requiring the victim to retell his story multiple times, vividly reliving the pain and confusion surrounding the experience.
In recent years, communities across the country, including York and Adams, have established child advocacy centers to help meet the unique needs of a vulnerable population. By coordinating between community agencies and professionals involved in the intervention system, the goal is one interview and one physical exam for the victim.
Over the past year, this goal has become a reality for both the York County Children’s Advocacy Center and the Adams County Children’s Advocacy Center thanks to a partnership between the two community groups and WellSpan. Now WellSpan Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) nurses are available to examine suspected child abuse victims on the same day as the child’s interview.
“In the past, children had to come back weeks or even months later for a medical exam,” says Joddie Walker, executive director of the Adams County Children’s Advocacy Center. “Now, children have access to a medical exam on the same day as their initial appointment. This allows the family to get the answers they need and have the opportunity to move forward towards healing quicker.”
Emily Huggins, York Hospital SAFE nurse team leader, along with additional members of the York Hospital SAFE team and Jennifer McNew, Gettysburg Hospital SAFE team pediatric leader, completed additional pediatric training coupled with 100 percent review of pediatric cases to achieve the level of expertise required for the expanded role.
“Our standard of practice is to provide any child suspected of child abuse with a sexual assault exam,” remarks Deborah Harrison, executive director of the York County Children’s Advocacy Center. “The partnership with WellSpan has allowed us to provide the best quality of care to a really vulnerable population.”
Read about additional WellSpan initiatives that help remove the barriers to a healthier community.