Agencies stay united against abuse

Reprinted with permission by the Tulsa World
Tulsa World (Final Home Edition), Page A11 of News

GINNIE GRAHAM World Staff Writer

They reiterate their pledge since 1988 to investigate such Tulsa County cases as a team.

Eight Tulsa County agencies renewed a pledge Thursday to work together to prevent violence against children.

At a summit at the University of Oklahoma’s Schusterman Center, agency representatives recommitted to the multidisciplinary team approach to investigating child abuse, and new members of the team were educated about its goals and processes.

The approach was established in 1988 by then-District Attorney David Moss with the creation of the District Attorney’s Task Force on Crimes Against Children.

The network served as a model for a mandate from the Legislature in 2000 to put a child abuse investigative team and advocacy center in each county.

Other states and international groups also have used the Tulsa model to create their own multiagency approaches to curbing child abuse.

District Attorney Tim Harris explained why the summit was needed:

“The summit is the highest point. You can look at the walking trail you took coming up, and you get to figure out where you are going from there,” he said. “Here we are in 2003, and, baby, we’ve come a long way.”

Dr. Bob Block, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa campus, announced that he would turn over many of the daily responsibilities and public outreach duties of the team to two other physicians.

Dr. Penny Grant will be the medical director, and Dr. Deborah Lowen has been named director of clinical services.

Block is one of the founders of the multiteam approach and is considered one of the state’s leading child-abuse examiners.

With the retirements or departures of many of the original investigators and founders from the multidisciplinary team, Block said, the summit should help educate their successors.

“It’s a remarkable thing that this agreement has been signed and re-signed over the years as different people come into these roles,” he said.

“I do not ever want to be the pilgrim again. Now it is up to you.”

Block recalled how individuals working on child-abuse cases often did not know each other and worked in a vacuum before the team approach was put into effect.

Families had to go to several different offices and had to repeat their stories many times to various officials.

Agency officials misunderstood the processes, goals and roles of other investigative organizations, resulting in frustrations about case outcomes.

“The team approach works as a protection for us all from the wrong decisions by an individual,” Block said. “Those wrong decisions hurt kids; those wrong decisions hurt families; and those wrong decisions hurt careers.”

About 26,000 cases of child abuse and neglect are reported in Oklahoma each year. Tulsa County’s total is about 3,000.

The Department of Human Services’ Tulsa County office receives 300 to 350 referrals a month regarding possible child abuse, and about 8 percent of those result in legal action.

The other 92 percent of cases are families that need other services to improve their relationships and parenting skills.

About 2,000 cases were reviewed at the Justice Center in 2002. The center, at 2829 S. Sheridan Road, is run by the nonprofit CHILD ABUSE NETWORK and houses representatives from five agencies.