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Children's Mercy app gives tools to help identify signs of child abuse

Posted at 5:24 PM, Jul 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-30 19:16:03-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When a child is abused or killed, like the recent tragic case of KCK toddler Olivia Jansen, the community demands answers.

An app developed by Children's Mercy Hospital doctors that identifies child abuse signs could be part of the solution.

"It helps that investigator understand the injury itself, how it could have happened through abuse or through accident, and that way they can ask the family better questions," said Dr. Jim Anderst, director of the Division of Child Adversity and Resilience at Children's Mercy Hospital.

It's called the Child Protector App, and it's been downloaded more than 50,000 times all over the world.

It explains different types of injuries and bruises on a child's body. Animations show how it could happen if the injury is by accident or through child abuse.

A doctor or child protective services worker can then fill out a forensic decision-making survey that will help them decide if it's abuse, what tests to run, and who to call next.

"I've personally had medical providers and child protective services workers call me on cases and tell me they used the app and it changed their decision-making process and it helped the kid get to better spot, get them to a better spot more quickly," Anderst said.

For example, if a medical provider sees an infant with bruising it should be an immediate red flag because infants are immobile. The doctor can use the app and receive a suggestion of which x-rays to run, which might reveal hidden injuries. Toddlers, however, are mobile and often get bumps or bruises when they fall.

"So when we think where do we typically see bruises on children who incur accidental injuries, that's the knees and the shins, the elbows and the back of the forearms and of course the forehead," said Dr. Mary Moffatt, child abuse pediatrician at Children's Mercy. "When we see bruises outside of those locations, it raises some concern that this is a location we don't anticipate typical bruising."

Anderst said doctors can go through medical school and residency and never learn about child abuse. The app is a tool at their fingertips to enter the information in front of them.

"We know it fills a needed gap and we hope it puts child maltreatment in the back of their head and they think about it and better at detecting it," Anderst said.

The app is also helpful for the average person, like teachers and family members. The videos show detailed locations of where a bruise is located and what it looks like if a child naturally fell versus being beaten with a cord or belt.

Calls to child abuse hotlines are down in the Kansas City area, likely due to the pandemic. Children are at home more often with their abusers and don't see teachers or other people in the community as often, who might report the abuse if they knew about it.

Synergy Services, a family violence prevention agency, is seeing the same trend.

"The Child Protector App can be really helpful with a lot of services at Synergy. We are on the back end, so someone has identified abuse has occurred and we're going to take the child's statement. But we can work with the caregivers, with families, in helping identify the kind of injuries," said Gwen O'Brien, director of advocacy and prevention.

The app is full of information people may not want to see, but Anderst said this is real life.

"I think once you understand that and are willing to acknowledge that's what really happens, then we have to figure out how to help the children in that situation," Anderst said.