Available around the clock, the team receives requests by the patient’s primary treatment team in any case of suspected child abuse or neglect. They take steps to ensure proper testing and investigation while communicating directly with the state Department of Children and Family Services and local investigative agencies. CAST members know how critical their role is as the medical investigation and determination of injuries provides substantial evidence during legal proceedings that assists these agencies in their investigation.
“Doing this work is about breaking cycles of abuse and raising awareness,” Brent Reifsteck, MD, medical director, Children’s Service Line at Carle Foundation Hospital and physician coordinator, CAST (Child Abuse Safety Team). Relationships among medical, social, legal and state investigators are essential to improving the lives of abused and neglected children, he said.
CAST started in 2011 and the time it takes per case can vary from 15 minutes to multiple hours. Annually, the number of cases ranged from 85 to 100, but those numbers have increased over time and in 2022, the team addressed 169 cases. As the physician lead, Reifsteck finds himself called in on cases outside Champaign-Urbana in the central region of Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
There are four regions – Central, Cook, Northern and Southern. The total state population in the central region is just 17 percent, but 28 percent of the child abuse cases investigated come from that same region, based on statistics from the state agency.
Prevent Child Abuse Illinois defines child abuse as any of the following: rape, fondling, incest, sexual talk, voyeurism, exhibitionism, pornography and internet crimes. By the time a child is 18 years old, one of four girls and one of six boys will be sexually abused, the agency reports. Prevent Child Abuse Illinois also states for 90% of children sexually abused, the abuse is by someone they know or someone their family knows, loves or trusts.
Many abused children show no signs at all, but the emotional and behavioral problems they have often extend into adulthood.
For abused children who suffer death in the Champaign area, the Champaign Area Child Death Review team of nurses, pediatricians, social workers, state prosecutors and county coroner representatives work together to review the case and identify any gaps in procedures by all parties involved. The team started 25 years ago and Reifsteck, as vice chairman of the Champaign Area Child Death Review Team, is hoping to see the DCFS-designated central region get a task force similar to what the state legislature created in the DCFS-designated southern region.
“That teamwork across various agencies makes a huge difference. In the southern region, investigations are more thorough and the result is justice for the victim,” he said.
For more information about the Child Abuse Safety Team, go here: https://carle.org/Services/Child-Abuse-Safety-Team.