Abuse Screening Could Save Young Lives

Last year, 3-year-old Athena Angeles of Willimantic was brought to Windham Hospital with a serious head injury. She was treated and released to her mother's care and died several hours later after being beaten by the mother's boyfriend, authorities said.

In response to this and similar tragedies — 10 to 12 children die of abuse in Connecticut and 1,400 are taken into state care each year for abuse or neglect — hospitals are adopting stricter abuse screening protocols for preschool children.

Under the new guidelines, proposed by state Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz and unanimously adopted by the state's Committee on Trauma, when a child under 6 comes to a medical facility with a significant traumatic injury, the physician must disrobe the child and examine him or her, and check the child's medical records for previous suspicious or unexplained injuries.

If the situation needs further attention, the physician must call the DCF Care Line to pursue the matter. The idea here is not to harass parents whose kids fall off their bikes. It is to look for those appalling cases — cigarette burns on the bottom of a child's feet, to cite an actual example — that could not have happened by falling off a bike. If such cases can be caught early, it is possible to prevent further injury or death.

Ms. Katz said in a meeting with The Courant's editorial board this week that she hopes the screening guidelines become standard operating procedure, uniformly applied, one that parents expect and accept. She said the physical exam should take no more than five minutes, so should not be a burden.

Well, some parents may object, but the prevalence of abuse of defenseless children merits the trauma screening. It won't stop every death or injury, but it is a positive and potentially life-saving response to a heinous problem.

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