Healing Abused Children
by Linda J. Brown
My Dr. Finkel
My Dr. Finkel is the best.
I n a special place in Dr. Martin Finkel's office sits this sunny poem that reflects the joy, simplicity and innocence of a child. It's not what you would expect from a little girl who'd recently been sexually abused. But Finkel has made a career helping to physically and mentally heal these innocent victims and he's extremely good at what he does.
You might wonder why someone would choose to immerse himself in the tragic world of child sexual abuse. For Martin Finkel, it began in 1982 in Washington, DC at cherry blossom time. Finkel, a clinical assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at the then-new UMDNJ-School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM) in Stratford, had developed an interest in physical abuse of children. So when an invitation came to attend a conference on child sexual abuse, he decided to go. He listened and learned. After the presentation, the speaker asked for a show of hands from the various disciplines represented at the conference - law enforcement, mental health, child protection and medical. Out of 250 people, his was the lone hand raised from the medical field.
Finkel made a personal commitment then to learn as much as he could about the issue and help educate his colleagues about it. His vision set, he founded the Camden County Coalition Against the Sexual Abuse of Children, and started down a long road to try to improve "the system" so children could get the kind of care they need. In 1986 he applied for and received support from the school so he could hire a psychologist, a social worker and a secretary. A year later he applied for and received a federal grant to support the initial start-up, and expanded even further. In January 1988, the Center for Children's Support was formally launched at SOM with Finkel at its helm as medical director.
Today, under his guidance, the center has a full-time staff of 17, including nine clinical child psychologists, two pediatricians, researchers, support staff and outreach people. Children referred there (usually by the Division of Youth and Family Services or law enforcement) have detailed histories taken and are given medical examinations by Finkel. Any injuries or sexually transmitted diseases are treated. The exam is often therapeutic in that Finkel reassures children that their bodies are intact and fine.
Then, since the primary impact of sexual victimization is psychological, children have access to a whole spectrum of mental health services. Everything is done with sensitivity, skill and the highest degree of professionalism. Finkel and other staff members also go to criminal and civil court to testify in child abuse cases.
One of the unique aspects of this center, is ongoing research. Esther Deblinger, PhD, director of mental health services, is in the midst of conducting a National Institute of Mental Health treatment outcome study to assess the impact of mental health therapy. On the medical side, Finkel published the first paper in the medical literature on the healing chronology of acute anogenital trauma. He followed a group of children immediately after they were sexually assaulted and documented the healing process. This data is crucial since many children don't tell of sexual victimization until long after it has occurred; thus their injuries have already healed.
Finkel also influences and opens the eyes of the students he teaches. The impact of his message ripples out through a number of his students who have gone on to use the knowledge gained, whether it's as pediatricians, family practitioners or psychologists.
Speaking at the local, national and international level is another method the 49-year-old Finkel uses to spread the word. He also enacts change through the many committees and associations he belongs to. He co-chairs the governor-appointed New Jersey Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect and has just completed his tenth year as commissioner of the governor-appointed Children's Trust Fund for Child Abuse.
Finkel served as president of the American College of Osteopathic Pediatricians, a field he entered in large part due to his father, who was an osteopathic pediatrician in Lancaster County, PA.
Finkel and his brother, who is also a physician, spent time with their father as he made his rounds. "We saw a man who was very hard working, committed to the work that he did, and successful," recalled Finkel. "We were proud of him and in many ways we wanted to emulate him."
Finkel's path may have been inspired by his father, but he's quick to acknowledge that he could never have come this far without the support of his colleagues and the love of his wife, Bonnie, an attorney, and his two children.
The accomplishments Finkel is most proud of are those that have improved treatment of sexually abused children. He was the first physician in the US to introduce the use of video coloscopy in diagnosis, a procedure which "demystifies the examination for children and gives them a sense of participation and control." He's written a book and the first monograph on the diagnosis of sexual abuse in children. "I believe in many ways I have helped set the standard for the approach to the medical examination of the sexually abused child," said Finkel.
You won't find the doctor resting on his laurels, though. He says there is still much to be done. "I would like to see that statewide, all children, regardless of their ability to pay, have access to knowledgeable, skilled and sensitive clinicians," said Finkel. No small goal, but Martin Finkel is extremely good at what he does.
Fall 1998 Table of Contents