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Center offers a family support system

Quiet spaces in University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital such as this family lounge give parents of ill children a place to reflect and relax during stressful times. (Photo: Jim Bovin)

Rich Kaplan, M.D., M.S.W., was deliberate about the words he chose when he named the University of Minnesota’s Center for Safe and Healthy Children five years ago.

“The goal of the center is to keep children safe and to support families so they can raise healthy kids,” says Kaplan, who also founded the center and is one of only two physicians in Minnesota (and one of fewer than 200 in the United States) board-certified in child abuse pediatrics.

Kaplan works closely with the physicians at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital’s emergency department, a group he calls “the best in the state.” That group, along with Kaplan and pediatric trauma surgeons at the hospital, designed a strict protocol to follow when an injured child comes into the emergency department.

If there is not “a clear, corroborated mechanism of injury,” meaning the cause of the child’s injury is in question, Kaplan says, or if the child has significant injuries and is under two years old, the center receives a call.

But when possible, Kaplan prefers to be proactive and reach out to families before any child suffers maltreatment.

“We really want to help families so they don’t fail, rather than wait until they do fail and then call in child protection,” he says. “That’s the old model.”

The family-centered culture and quiet spaces at Amplatz Children’s Hospital provide a place for Kaplan and members of his staff to meet with families under stress, many of them with critically or chronically ill children, in a nonthreatening way.

“One thing families feel they’re not allowed to do is to say how awful and hard it is to have a sick child,” he says. “We try to give them permission to say that and then find them support.”

To learn how you can support the Center for Safe and Healthy Children, contact Courtney Billing at 612-626-1931 or

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