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EDITORIAL

Distressing lack of awareness about children's safety

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 12:01 am

It's making protecting them much harder than it should be.

This is quite disheartening: A local study on reporting child abuse and neglect by medical professionals who deal with children discovered that only 5 percent found it very easy to identify an abused or neglected child. Five percent!

And the news gets even worse:

•Almost 34 percent have had no training whatsoever in identifying an abused or neglected child.

•Almost 50 percent did not even know about the Indiana law that makes it a criminal offense not to report suspected child abuse.

These are not just any medical professionals, mind you, but medical professionals who deal with children. There has been a concerted effort in recent years to increase awareness of child abuse and neglect. If this particular group is that unaware, that effort has obviously not been enough.

The report concluded that child protective services must address the multiple barriers identified by medical professionals and increase follow-up to improve both providers' clinical evaluations and confidence the issue is being addressed. Yes, we'd say so, at a minimum.

Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan, one of those who conducted the survey of 202 health professionals, makes the obvious point that schools of medicine and nursing need to do a better job not only of teaching their students how to recognize abuse or neglect but even helping them feel more comfortable just talking about sexual issues. It's right to push the schools to do that, but it would be foolish to count on that to solve the problem.

The county's medical community took the initiative in identifying the problem, and it is to be commended for that. But it needs to take the initiative in attacking the problem has well. If there were ever an issue crying out for a series of locally organized and produced seminars, this is it.

Indiana is a lot more enlightened than some states – our law criminalizing the non-reporting of suspected abuse applies to everyone, not just those who deal with children. But those in the medical profession are on the front lines. If they aren't paying attention as they should – or don't know what to look for when they are paying attention – the fight for our children's health and safety will be so much harder than it should be.