KU Wichita Pediatrics partners with advocacy center to care for abused kids
Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County adds on-site medical care, thanks to support from KU.
Children coming to the Child Advocacy Center of Sedgwick County have already experienced trauma. Sending them elsewhere for services risks only compounding the trauma and complicating the care needed by the victims of child abuse, sexual abuse and neglect.
Although KU Wichita Pediatrics has long worked with the center, it only recently was able to fill a missing piece for an organization built upon collaboration: On-site medical care by forensic nurse Tina Peck, APRN, who’s specially trained to work with abuse victims.
“It’s huge in that we don’t want clients to have to make additional or unnecessary trips,” says Diana Schunn, the center’s executive director who during many years as a forensic nurse helped develop the profession and programs in the state. “The more we ask them to make another appointment or go to another location, the more it just becomes overwhelming. This allows them to have the evaluation right away and not make another appointment or take another day off.”
The center, located in a former elementary school south of downtown Wichita, cares for over 2,000 Sedgwick County children each year. It’s where health care, mental health care, social services, advocacy services and the legal system intersect under one roof. The center’s team consists of advocates, social workers, therapists, law officers, district attorneys and more, with many of them supplied and paid for by other agencies but all working in the same space.
“The Child Advocacy Center is intended to be a one-stop shop, and we are one slice of a very big pie,” says Kerri Weeks, M.D., board-certified child abuse pediatrician and director of the KU Wichita Pediatrics Child Abuse & Neglect Division. “We’ve had Tina in the back of our mind for years as someone we wanted to work with our kids. It worked out great that it was a good time for her to take the job and a great time for KU to be able to fund this position. And we had a clinic space earmarked within the Child Advocacy Center.”
“As a nonprofit, everything that we do is free of charge to clients,” Schunn says. “Having a partner like KU pay the salary of the nurse is instrumental in us being able to provide medical services here.”
Care and continuity have already improved with Peck and the clinic in place. In the past, “a low percentage of our cases actually ended up having medical evaluation, because of a lack of understanding of the benefits and myriad other reasons. By having Tina here, she can meet with the family and explain what the medical process looks like. We’ve already seen a significant change in families following through.”
What forensic nurses do
For many years, Peck worked with Via Christi Health, bringing her in contact with Weeks and other abuse specialists practicing there and at Wesley Medical Center. Although Peck now focuses on children, forensic nurses work with victims of all ages and circumstances — adults, elderly, domestic violence, human trafficking, physical abuse, sexual abuse — experiencing trauma.
Forensic nurses examine and interview patients, providing expertise and reassurance at a difficult time. The advocacy center works hard to provide a comforting atmosphere. A central waiting and playroom is kid-friendly, with toys, murals and bright colors. The same goes for the clinic room Peck uses, with child-size equipment and a new mural there, too. Each specialty, from mental health to social work, is close by and accessible, with professionals supporting patients and one another, too.
The “forensic” part of the title is a bit of a misnomer, as evidence collection is not a major part of the role at the CAC, which tends to see clients days after incidents occurred.
“The role is important because we are trained and educated in how to interact with the family and with the child, collecting evidence if necessary,” Peck says. “We take a statement from the child and determine where they may have injuries, so we know how to better take care of them. We’re there to make sure the child is okay. And to answer any questions they may have about their bodies, about safe relationships and safety at home.”
“They may be worried about pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and a variety of different things they may experience,” Schunn says. “A lot of our kids mistakenly feel like they are forever changed physically because of the abuse, and that someone in the future will be able to tell that they look or are different.”
In some cases, the abuse occurs within a family, from a parent, older sibling or other relative. Other cases, reflecting the time and technology, involve social media and the internet, with children or youth being solicited for nude photos or to set up meetings. Sometimes, law officers on the team can intervene and have a preventive role. Peck’s role involves some of the same qualities.
“A lot of the reassurance and education Tina provides really helps with the healing process and hopefully prevents further abuse,” Weeks says.
Finding a calling
Peck began her career in labor and delivery, but after learning about nurses specializing in sexual abuse, she found her calling in a role where compassion and details matter.
“I fell in love with the profession, which not many people can say because it is a hard profession. You meet somebody different each day, and each person’s story is different,” Peck says. “I found it fascinating to interact with and provide care for patients that have been victimized, which is different than anything we learned in nursing school. Just to play a role in somebody’s life when they’re truly vulnerable, it’s a privilege.”
Building trust and rapport is part of fulfilling that privilege.
“When they come to the CAC, they’re very nervous or anxious,” Peck says. “But we get a chance to explain our role, and we give them complete control over the medical exam. They can have an advocate with them. They can have their parents or another supportive person with them. Sometimes, after the exam, we have patients give hugs, say thank you, and want to stay and spend more time with you.”