Westchester DA Addresses Child Abuse Issues
Written by Westchester.com
Wednesday, 26 April 2006
White Plains, Ny – In acknowledgment of this year's National Crime Victims' Rights Week, District Attorney Janet DiFiore discussed the formulation of a multi-faceted team approach to child abuse and safety in Westchester County.
The initiative involves three collaborative efforts that form a comprehensive safety net aimed at prevention, mitigation and investigation of child abuse. Partnered in this effort are the Westchester County District Attorney's Office and the child abuse prevention services at the Valhalla Campus of the Westchester Medical Center.
The first facet in this approach is protecting the newborn child. The Hudson Valley Shaken Baby Prevention Initiative (HVSBPI), a network of 22 hospitals throughout Westchester and the Lower Hudson Valley and developed through the Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center is to teach new parents about Shaken Baby Syndrome and focus on prevention before a tragedy occurs.
The program provides a preventive standardized educational message to parents of the 27,000 babies born each year in the region at the time of delivery. Now in its second year, the program will be enhanced by expanding its educational message to primary care pediatricians.
Shaken Baby Syndrome is a traumatic brain injury that occurs when a baby is violently shaken. Violent shaking makes the child's developing brain bounce back and forth inside the skull and may causes bruising, swelling, and bleeding, which can lead to permanent, severe brain damage or death. Shaken baby injuries usually occur in children younger than two years old, but can be sustained by children up to the age of five. The majority of infants who survive severe shaking will have some form of neurological or developmental disability, such as cerebral palsy or mental retardation, which may not be fully apparent until several years after the shaking. Children with shaken baby syndrome may require lifelong medical care.
The HVSBPI, spearheaded by Dr. Robin Altman, Chief, Division of General Pediatrics at New York Medical College and forensic pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Canter, Director of Child Protection for the Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center and Medical Director of The Children's Advocacy Center (CAC) at the Westchester Institute For Human Development is one of several activities on the Valhalla campus designed to prevent child abuse and neglect.
The second facet in the team approach is The Westchester Institute of Human Development's: Children's Advocacy Center.
The CAC provides a child friendly environment where child victims of abuse can be assessed by forensic medical and psychosocial professionals. The center is also engaged in ongoing research and educational activities. The District Attorney's Office is working closely with county agencies, including the CAC, as well as the police community to develop a Multi-Disciplinary Team to investigate incidents of child abuse within a coordinated protocol. The investigation will be conducted in a collaborative manner, so as not to expose the child to multiple interviews further traumatizing the child.
District Attorney Janet DiFiore said, "All too frequently we focus on the aftermath of a tragedy that involves the death of an infant or young child. What the Shaken Baby Prevention Initiative education program starts and the Multi-Disciplinary team approach to an incident completes is a comprehensive, proactive and well thought out process of prevention and treatment measures to address potential areas of abuse before a death occurs." Dr. Jennifer Canter said, "There are a variety of child abuse prevention activities in Westchester County. The Hudson Valley Shaken Baby Prevention Program is a primary prevention strategy aimed at preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome; we've identified risk factors for shaking, and have developed a mechanism proven to prevent the outcome. The Children's Advocacy Center provides a child-friendly environment where members of law enforcement, medical, prosecution, child protective, victim's services and others working with abused children can collaborate and minimize trauma to those children. A formal multi-disciplinary team will only enhance the sharing of information and maximize effective case management between these agencies."
The third facet in this approach is the recently approved local Child Fatality Review Team (CFRT).
The purpose of a CFRT is to collaboratively examine the cause and events leading to a child’s fatality to formulate constructive and meaningful recommendations to prevent further child deaths. Additionally, the CFRT will issue a timely report that will specify the cause of death, any services that had been offered to the family prior to the occurrence of the fatality, emergency medical response to the incident, and investigations conducted subsequent to the child’s death. When appropriate, the report will recommend administrative, policy or legislative changes that emerge as necessary to insure the well being of children's issues during such a review. The team will also make therapeutic referrals, participate in community outreach and offer training for relevant community agencies including schools, local police departments and health care facilities.
"The death of a child is a tragedy whatever the circumstances," added District Attorney DiFiore, "The establishment of this local Child Fatality Review Team will allow us to conduct an in-depth review of the fatality through a timely and meaningful process. Our goal is to understand the factors and events which lead to a child's death in the hope that it may help us to prevent a death or injury to any child in the future."
The Westchester County Child Fatality Review Team, approved by the State of New York, includes representatives from the Westchester County District Attorney's Office, the Westchester County Department of Social Services (Child Protective Services), the Westchester County Office of Medical Examiner, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services a forensic pediatrician as well as the Westchester County Attorney's Office and local law enforcement. The Westchester County Health Department, the Westchester County Mental Health Department, and Victims Assistance Services have already been invited to join the team and, on a case by case basis, the cooperation and input of other appropriate agencies and individuals may be sought.
Westchester County's CFRT is only the fourth such state certified county team in New York State and is the only certified team that has the responsibility to prepare and write its own report.