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Nancy Harper, MD, provides compassionate, comprehensive care to victims of child abuse or neglect

Meet Child Abuse Pediatrician Nancy Harper, MD, who leads a multidisciplinary team of child abuse and neglect specialists at the M Health Fairview SafeChild Clinic in Minneapolis.
M Health Fairview Child Abuse Pediatrician Nancy Harper, MD.
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As the leader of a treatment center for victims of child abuse in the Twin Cities, Child Abuse Pediatrician Nancy Harper, MD, holds a unique position within our local community.

Harper directs the Otto Bremer Trust Center for Safe and Healthy Children, which launched the M Health Fairview SafeChild Clinic earlier this year. We asked Harper about her drive to perform this difficult but necessary work and how the SafeChild Clinic transforms the lives of children and families.

Thanks to the ongoing generosity of the Otto Bremer Trust and partners like the 3M Open, it is possible for our team to provide these comprehensive services and adapt our resources to meet the changing needs of our community.  

What drove you to focus on child abuse and neglect?

When I was a medical student, I spent a week working with a pediatrician at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in Virginia who specialized in adolescent medicine and consulted on child sexual abuse cases. This opportunity to observe a physician specializing in care for victims of child abuse led me to change my career path from psychiatry to pediatrics, and ultimately to child abuse pediatrics.

I also had the support of great mentors later in my residency training and during my first years as a practicing physician, including child abuse pediatricians at the Armed Forces Center for Child Protection. They were a source of early guidance as I began caring for child abuse victims – even before I began my formal fellowship training in child abuse pediatrics. 

How would you describe your approach to patient care?

My practice philosophy follows the CARE model, which stands for clinical excellence, advocacy, research, and education. From this philosophy, I developed my own compassionate, trauma-informed approach for helping children and families. However, this CARE model cannot function without a team of dedicated professionals. While a medical provider evaluates the child with the assistance of a child life specialist, one of our social workers meets with the child’s parent or caregiver to provide support, education on trauma symptoms, and resources.

We do this because exposure to child abuse and neglect can become a toxic stress with lifelong medical and mental health consequences in the absence of a supportive relationship with a nurturing parent or caregiver. To have a safe, stable, and nurturing relationship with a child, we know a caregiver will need resources and support as well. 

What sets the Otto Bremer Trust Center for Safe and Healthy Children, its SafeChild clinic, and your staff apart? What makes it special and different?

The Otto Bremer Trust Center for Safe and Healthy Children provides comprehensive medical and psychosocial services to children and families affected by abuse and neglect. It is a Center of Excellence for child abuse pediatrics, which means that we conduct advocacy, prevention, research, and education efforts in addition to clinical care.

Our multidisciplinary team provides:

  • Advanced medical evaluations
  • Psychosocial assessments
  • Photo-documentation of injuries
  • Screening for trauma symptoms and suicidal ideation
  • Referrals for community services and support
  • Education and support for the medical community, Child Protective Services, law enforcement, and other local providers
  • Court testimony
  • Regional, national, and international education.

Every family sees both a medical provider and a social worker at the center. While the child or teen receives a medical evaluation, our social workers complete a comprehensive psychosocial assessment with the youth’s caregiver(s) in order to assess risk factors, protective factors, and to ensure they are receiving the appropriate level of services and support in the community. We also have a Child-Family Life Specialist on our team whose primary role is to provide developmentally appropriate preparation for the medical visit; coping strategies for anxiety and trauma symptoms; as well as comfort and support to youth before, during, and after their clinic appointment.

How does the Center for Safe and Healthy Children address child abuse and related issues across the nation?

The Otto Bremer Trust Center for Safe and Healthy Children currently has three prevention initiatives in place: the screening and identification of youth at risk for trafficking and exploitation, the identification of sentinel injuries in the emergency room setting, and a “No Hit Zone,” which aims to eliminate the use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline.

The Center provides education throughout the year both locally and nationally regarding issues related to child abuse and neglect. We also host an annual multidisciplinary Child Abuse Summit, which had more than 400 virtual attendees this year.

How does this service help the local community?

Many of the children and teenagers we see have experienced a traumatic event. Our trauma-focused services provide support, education, and reassurance to children and their families. Our providers work closely with other agencies, including Child Protective Services and law enforcement, to ensure the safety of children and adolescents. The up-to-date education we provide helps inform other healthcare professionals who provide trauma-focused services to children and families in our community.

What signs of trauma should parents and caregivers look out for?

Children and adolescents who have experienced a traumatic event may experience the following:

  • Avoidance of trauma-related thoughts or feelings
  • Intrusive memories of the event
  • Hyperarousal, irritability or aggression
  • Behavioral problems
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Social withdrawal
  • Suicidal ideation

Because there are a wide range of trauma symptoms, it is important that caregivers look for changes in their child’s normal behavior. Fortunately, the risks associated with childhood traumatic stress can be reduced with early intervention.

How can providers refer patients to the SafeChild clinic?

Providers can refer patients to the SafeChild Clinic by calling our clinic number 612-273-SAFE (7233) or emailing us at safechild@fairview.org. The SafeChild Clinic is located at 2512 South 7th Street in Minneapolis.


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