Part 4 of Focus on First Witness: Importance of medical response

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Once allegations of child abuse surface, the child may need a medical exam.

Dr. Jennifer Jones, a family practice physician in Duluth, has the specialized training to do them. The majority are done at the Duluth Family Medicine Clinic.

We asked her what she wants parents to know about these. “I’d want you to know it’s a head to toe medical exam on every child. The bulk of it looks like a well child check. I tell them we’re going to do this, and talk about this as we go. I try and make it fun, let them use my stethoscope, and they can look in my ears if they want,” she explained.

An advocate from First Witness may come and sit in the other room with the caregiver, providing some reassurance. Because it can be a lengthy exam.

“I ask very open ended questions, in order not to lead the child. But I also have to ask some pretty intimate questions. And being able to do that in a trauma-informed way and not re-traumatize them, is important,” she added.

Dr. Jones and Dr. Blessing are part of the multi-disciplinary team with First Witness. And they are critical, according to other members, like Lisa Salo.

Salo is a supervisor of a child protection unit with St. Louis County. “It is so important that the community has a doctor that understands not only the investigative process but also the impact the system can have on kids,” she told us.

“Our role with child protection is to ensure the safety and well-being of children,” Salo said.

She told us they get 60-70 reports about potential maltreatment each month. About 50-65 of them get investigated. And then on average, 4-5% of those, so about 3 cases, get to the court system. And medical response, is major.

“If we have a young child who has injuries, or who can’t be interviewed, we need someone with professional maltreatment experience. They can also review medical records, and we utilize them weekly, if not more,” Salo added.

She used to work for First Witness, and knows first hand how lucky we are to have their resources.

Both women want to help, and First Witness gives them another way to do so.

“Sometimes we have to make really hard decisions, and do really hard things,” Salo said. “I feel like this work chooses people. I don’t think I necessarily chose this work.”

Same for Dr. Jones. “This is just the start of a very long process. For children and their families. But I get to be part of that process, which is very rewarding.

First Witness is encouraging support for their Restoring Hope Capital Campaign, to help them move into their new space: