Healing Help

August 2021 View more

When children are victims of sexual or physical abuse, they are often terrified to visit a doctor for a checkup. The whole process of changing into a gown and having an exam understandably can cause great anxiety. To handle these delicate situations, a group of emergency room doctors and nurses established the Care Center in Naperville’s Edward Hospital in 1991. The Care Center is a place where medical checkups are provided in a calm and caring environment for children, teens, and special-needs adults who have suffered abuse.

The Care Center staff uses a compassionate and empowering approach to help restore a child’s sense of dignity and wellbeing. Dr. Sangita Rangala, medical director of the Care Center, is the embodiment of this philosophy.
“People think of it as just a medical exam or social services, but it can be so much more. It can be a restoration of normal. We can treat medical issues, but their spirit—that’s what needs to be the most important thing,” she explains.

“Our biggest goal is to give a child back that sense of control over one’s own self, control over their own body, control over their own decisions—to give them back a sense of dignity and value. Almost every child who is sexually abused feels like there is something wrong with them. When they come in for a physical exam, it’s hugely difficult for them. It is a moment of such power and vulnerability,” she explains. “The minute they come in we treat them like rock stars. The fact that they walked through the door is a huge accomplishment.”

Children are often referred to the program by a county’s Children’s Advocacy Center, which manages child abuse investigations. Larger counties—like DuPage, Will, and Kane—enlist a multidisciplinary team of law enforcement, state’s attorneys, social workers, mental health professionals, and medical personnel.

Because Edward’s Care Center is the only one of its kind in the area— stretching from Peoria and Rockford in the west to Chicago in the east—it serves patients from 10 different counties.

“Ideally, medical would be onsite, but we’ve become the medical wing for multiple counties,” Rangala says. While most are referred by CACs, the Care Center also cares for children referred by the Department of Children and Family Services, military bases, the U.S. attorney general’s office, and even Homeland Security. The Care Center also does not turn anyone away regardless of their ability to pay, which makes funds raised by organizations like the Naperville Exchange Club essential to keep the program running.

“These kids are so amazing, strong and resilient. A child who has survived abuse deserves to be celebrated. They are heroes because they survived,” Rangala points out. “When they look in the mirror we want them to see the heroes that we see and understand how valuable they are.”

Photo courtesy Edward-Elmhurst Health