Medics learn child abuse reporting

Nathan Domenighini

In the unfortunate circumstance that a call is made involving a case of child abuse, first responders walk a fine line when they arrive on scene.

Emergency personnel, school administrators, social service and mental health personnel — basically any member of an organization from which a child receives assistance — must react with composure. They must take sides with the child who was allegedly abused. It is crucial for first responders to gather all the information and details all while managing the emotions of those involved.

It is called being a mandated reporter — a member of a public institution that provides educational, mental or emergency assistance to any child younger than 18. Mandated reporters are required to immediately report suspected child maltreatment when they have “reasonable cause to believe” that a child has been abused or neglected.

Morton paramedics, along with volunteer firefighters, gathered in the Morton Fire Department Adams Street headquarters Feb. 16 to review the procedures in the event of a potential case of child abuse or neglect.

“I know when I have a child death, I always want to talk to first responders,” said Noel Carr, an investigator with the Department of Children and Family Services. He, along with Barb Strand, director of the Tazewell County Child Advocacy Center, spoke during informational training that evening.

Carr considers first responders an important part of an intense investigation involving child abuse or neglect. He was very bold and straightforward with members of the audience.

“Unfortunately, domestic abuse happens a lot,” he said. “(First responders) are able to see what’s there.”

Carr explained the importance of gathering information in a timely manner and making a call to the child abuse or neglect hotline immediately. The information and first-hand observations of emergency personnel can be integral in a DCFS investigation. Firefighters should not hesitate to call the hotline for fear of worsening the situation, he said.

“Anytime a child is horribly injured — by calling DCFS, I cannot make the day any worse,” Carr said. “It is a lot better for me to (go) right after it happens.”

“When I come to their house to talk to them, then it becomes real important,” Carr said.

Carr is candid when he presents his advice. That seems to grab the audiences’ attention — at least that’s how Morton paramedic and lead instructor Missy Mallory sees it.

“We see a lot of it. We’d rather not see it,” she said, adding that the training keeps procedures fresh in personnel’s minds.

Mallory has been a paramedic in Morton for 19 years. Her career spans 26 years in total. She is not new to this kind of training. She, along with the entire Morton paramedic staff, pays close attention during informational training such as the one that night, she said.

“It is important for us to maintain the consistency of what we do,” Mallory said. Morton paramedics and firefighters attend a number of training sessions to keep pace with new trends, as well as reinforce fundamental procedures.

But, the Feb. 17 training was new for several members of the Morton Fire Department and paramedics. That is what makes annual refresher courses necessary for an emergency response department, Mallory said. Morton is just as vulnerable to domestic disputes as any other town in Tazewell.

Though Strand said the crime rate is lower in Morton, child abuse and neglect cases are not unheard of.

“We’ve seen some pretty bad cases come out of Morton,” Strand said.

Throughout the county, child abuse and neglect rates are up because more and more non-related people are living together.

The criteria for a child abuse or neglect case is broad. The victim must be younger than 18. The perpetrator must be a parent/guardian, step-parent, foster parent, sibling, grandparent or anyone living in the home. Perpetrators must also be a person who knows the child through an official capacity of trust, such as a coach, teacher or counselor, Strand said.

There must be a specific incident, demonstrated harm or a substantial risk of abuse or neglect. Once a call to the hotline is made, it cannot be retracted. A DCFS investigator will respond regardless.

“Tazewell County has very seasoned investigators,” she said.

One center receives all child abuse calls in Illinois. Sometimes, it may be difficult to get hotline personnel to respond immediately, Carr told emergency personnel.

He said a first responder’s call may be taken more seriously by hotline officials.

“First responders are the professionals,” he added. “You’ve done what you need to do when you called them.”