By: Maria Vinci Savettiere, Esq., Executive Director of Deirdre’s House
Deirdre’s House, the Center for Morris County’s child victims of abuse and/or neglect, would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to the National Philoptochos Society for providing funding through their Children’s Medical Fund that will allow us to not only reestablish the Deirdre’s House on site medical program but will also give us the ability to address a national critical shortage of physicians who are trained as pediatric abuse specialists. Currently, less than twenty doctors per year are trained in this specialty, leaving thousands of child victims without the specialized care they need and prosecutors without the experts they need to convict those who harm our children.
Deirdre’s House plays a critical role in Morris County’s ability to address the needs of childhood victims of physical and sexual abuse. DH is the only site in Morris County where a child victim can be forensically interviewed and digitally recorded by law enforcement, medically examined and treated, and clinically counseled in English and in Spanish, all under one roof, all free of charge. Since 1996, Deirdre’s House has opened the door to hope and healing for child victims 28,000 times. The core mission of Deirdre’s House is to provide justice in all its forms to child victims and their non-offending care-givers.
Certainly, an important part of justice is the prosecution and sentencing of perpetrators. Those who harm children must be held accountable for their crimes. But just as certainly, justice is about insuring that victims are treated with care and dignity. Justice is making sure that lives that are wrongly interrupted can still be happy and successful by ensuring that the trauma of the present is not carried into the future. On site non-traumatizing medical examinations and treatment are a critical part of achieving justice for child victims. Compassionate medical care is an important part of the healing process. Child victims that are carefully diagnosed and treated by pediatric abuse specialists have a much greater chance of overcoming their abuse and going on to lead successful and happy lives.
Why are medical examinations for child victims by a pediatric abuse specialist so critical? A doctor who is specifically trained as a pediatric abuse specialist is a vital part of the investigative and prosecutorial team. First and foremost, because the burden of proof in any criminal case is so very high-a prosecutor must overcome reasonable doubt in all members of a jury in order to convict a dangerous pedophile and insure that they will never hurt another child. By gathering and documenting physical evidence this specially trained pediatrician becomes the expert witness of choice in any prosecution and is able to corroborate statements that a child has made in their forensic interview about the assault. This physician can be the critical difference in the conviction of someone that has victimized a child.
Another reason that a pediatric abuse specialist is so important when treating a child victim is that because a child is accustomed to sharing information about their bodies with a doctor, oftentimes children will disclose information to a pediatric abuse physician that they would not disclose to anyone else. In addition, many times children look to our doctor to tell them that they will be OK and that no one will be able to tell just by looking at them that they have been abused or assaulted. In addition, a pediatric abuse specialist can rule out abuse so parents are not wrongfully accused and children get the medical attention they need.
Again, we are so grateful to the National Philoptochos Society for partnering with Deirdre’s House to provide critical on site, non-traumatizing medical treatment for child victims. The impact of this funding will affect the lives of thousands of children and their families for many years to come.
If you would like more information about Deirdre’s House or ways you can help, please refer to our website www.deirdreshouse.org.
I ask all who read this blog to remember to report suspected incidences of child abuse to the DCPP at 1-877-NJ Abuse or your local law enforcement or prosecutors office. We, as a community, are the first line of defense for children who may be suffering silently among us. Please do not allow child victims to suffer in silence. By reporting suspected abuse and neglect you could save a child’s life.
*The Deidre O’Brien Child Advocacy Center, Inc. in Morristown, New Jersey received a grant of $35,000 from the National Philoptochos Society’s Children’s Medical Fund for an on-site Medical Program for Child Victims of Physical and Sexual Abuse and/or Neglect.
*The above pictures are of (from top to bottom): a clinical counseling room, a forensic room and a medical room.