Medical intervention in child abuse cases provides hope for a healthy future |

Medical intervention in child abuse cases provides hope for a healthy future

Becky Bosshart
Appeal Staff Writer

An adolescent subjected to malnutrition, abuse and neglect is at risk for further difficulties, but the child’s future is improved by medical and psychological intervention and support, a mental health expert said Friday.

Psychologist Duane Runyan, manager of Carson Tahoe Behavioral Health Services, said abuse and neglect does not provide the consistent and predictable environment that a child needs to feel secure.

“The brain likes to feel safe and it likes to feel secure,” Runyan said. “Battery, abuse and neglect interfere with the consistency, predictability, nurturing and enriching environment that people want. It can cause a whole lot of difficulties, such as post-traumatic stress, depression, academic problems, social problems and some researchers even suggest health problems.”

He said an adolescent’s recovery is determined by an informed medical response that provides for every aspect of the child’s life, including care provided by a pediatrician, psychiatrist and dietitian.

Laura Hansen, a clinical dietitian at Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center, said a child who has been malnourished has to be hydrated slowly to maintain electrolyte balance.

“Hydration is the first concern when introducing food back into a diet,” she said. “The first instinct might be for the person to eat a much as they could, but their bodies can’t handle it. Simple soup and crackers is best.”

Karen Peterson, a clinical dietitian who has a special interest in pediatrics, said it’s important not to throw off a child’s metabolic balance, which could lead to breathing difficulties and heart problems.

The average adolescent girl should take in about 2,200 calories a day, they said. Proper nutrition in the teenage years builds bone density. Each adolescent’s recovery from malnutrition is different. In general, it can take a few days to get electrolytes balanced.

“You have to make sure that the diet long-term is balanced,” Peterson said. “And you have to make sure that you’re not wasting calories on food that is not nutritious.”

n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.