Florida High - Tech Child Abuse Investigations. (Dispatches from the States)

Article excerpt

It is oftentimes difficult for child protection workers to determine, for instance, whether a child actually fell down the stairs or is suffering from neglect and abuse. If such a case occurs in a rural or remote part of a state, it can be even more difficult for child protection workers to get the child to an expert.

With the help of a pilot telemedicine project created by officials in Florida's departments of Health and Management Services and the University of Florida's Department of Pediatrics, however, help may be easier to access.

In Florida, 25 medically directed, multidisciplinary child protection teams (CPTs) review all cases of child abuse and neglect that are reported to the state's Department of Children and Families hotline. To keep up with an increasing number of child abuse reports, a video network now links CPTs in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and Gainesville with hospital emergency rooms and child protection centers in rural parts of the state. Using specialized cameras, receivers, and broadband telecommunications equipment, a child abuse expert in Tallahassee can clearly see bruises, welts, and cuts on a child hundreds of miles away. With digitized clarity, individual hairs one-tenth of an inch long stand out like cornstalks on an oversized computer screen. Connected to a medical-grade printer, the equipment produces photographs that are acceptable in court cases.

Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the telemedicine network

* Reduces the number of children needing transportation for evaluation;

* Expedites child safety decisions;

* Increases the number of successful court actions by improving local expert court testimony;

* Creates a new role for nursing staff in evaluating these cases; and

* creases training opportunities for local health care providers. …