Those statistics, provided during Wednesday’s Partnerships for Healthy Communities Child Abuse Intervention & Prevention course through Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, painted a grim picture of a very real problem in communities across the state.
“It can happen anywhere. It happens here more than you guys probably realize,” Instructor Brian Irish told the group of fire, EMS, law enforcement and child advocates.
The program for pre-hospital providers and law enforcement is designed to educate first responders on how to recognize, document and report, and prevent child abuse.
“… We’re all out there doing the same thing on the same team, but we may not have the same training and the right communication and the right skills to make it happen,” said Kelly Buddenhagen, who works with the state EMS department. “And that’s what makes this class not only different from any other child abuse recognition and intervention class you’ve ever taken before, but also, it helps us to better understand our place in the team and if we can do our job better we help support the other side of the team, which then brings the service better for the children.”
The class appears to be working.
“[The pilot class] tracked how many suspected child abuse cases were reported by EMS — it was, like, 27 a year. After this course, it went up over 200 or 300 a year,” Buddenhagen said. “It’s about awareness. It’s about knowing what to look for and knowing who to contact, things like that.
“The best way to think about that is, a lot of folks end up in a situation that turns out or turns into abuse because they lack the resources, and this gives us the opportunity to bring them the resources. It doesn’t mean they were substantiated, but it means that people got resources.”
Separated into four parts, the course covered recognizing and responding to physical child abuse; appropriately documenting abuse; reporting child abuse; and preventing abuse.
For Irish, a paramedic/EMT, getting the word out to mandated reporters is key.
“… People talk to us. They trust firefighters for the most part. They like paramedics. They’re just going to blurt stuff out and talk to us, but they’re not going to do it to [law enforcement],” he said. “… Just keep that in mind. It’s a tough situation to be in, but being professional is the right thing to do as hard as it is to do.”