Texas Border Business
HARLINGEN – The month of April serves as Child Abuse Prevention Month, and there is a dire need of increased awareness for the victims of abuse who suffer throughout the community.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, nearly one in seven children in the United States suffered some form of abuse and/or neglect in the last year. Such instances of abuse can have long-lasting impacts, as studies have shown that adult survivors of childhood abuse are more likely to experience mental health difficulties, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, and substance use disorders.
For victims of child abuse, the road to healing and justice can be a difficult one to travel, but Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen is ensuring that some of the most vulnerable in the Rio Grande Valley do not have to travel that road alone.
Through its comprehensive medical forensic program, the Child to Adult Abuse Response Team (CAART) at Valley Baptist provides around-the-clock critical services to both child and adult victims of abuse, neglect, and sexual assault.
Offering services since 2006, the abuse response team provides care to more than 100 patients each month, in addition to working with partners and advocates throughout the community and testifying in legal court cases involving abuse.
As part of the services offered by the abuse response team, specially trained sexual assault nurse examiners who are also skilled as forensic nurses care for patients in a calming and secure treatment room designed specifically for victims of abuse, where doctors and nurses can provide medical care to the community’s most vulnerable.
Sonja Eddleman is a certified sexual assault nurse examiner to provide medical forensic examinations for all ages of patients by the International Association of Forensic Nurses. She serves as the clinical coordinator of the Child Abuse Resource and Evaluation (CARE) Team at Driscoll Children’s Hospital and is the Child to Adult Abuse Response Team (CAART) clinical director for Valley Baptist Health System. She said the abuse response team is an important tool in caring for patients, especially as the community continues to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“When patients come to the hospital, they expect that their medical needs will be met including: a comprehensive medical history, injuries documented and treated, testing and treatment for pertinent diseases, collection of items that have potential evidentiary value and providing resources for the next steps along the path,” she said. “The forensic nurses on the Child to Adult Abuse Response Team along with other medical team members provide comprehensive services wrapped in compassion. The compassionate services provided are instrumental in helping the patient with the next steps of the investigation and the potential for the case to go to court.”
The services provided by Valley Baptist are vital to the physical and emotional well-being of the victims – children, women, and men who are often shrouded in social stigma, Eddleman said.
“Valley Baptist has established community relationships with law enforcement and local nonprofits to connect our patients with the resources they need to be safe after discharge,” she said. “We are committed to providing quality, around-the-clock, compassionate care to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in our communities, and to supporting all efforts to reduce further violence.”
While Valley Baptist Health System remains committed to caring for and protecting all victims of abuse, Eddleman said it is critical for the community to do its part to help curb the impacts of abuse.
“Protect, listen, love, praise, and respect all children. Be a child’s sunshine. If you see, hear, or have concerns that a child is being abused, whether it be sexually, physically, or neglected, speak up!” Eddleman said.