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Pioneering child abuse pediatrician retires

Luberoff helped Kershaw and other counties change the way child and sex abuse is investigated

Posted: December 14, 2017 4:48 p.m.
Updated: December 15, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Provided by the CPD/

Retiring child abuse pediatrician Dr. Susan Luberoff (center) meets for the last time with the Kershaw County Multidisciplinary Team, or MDT, (front, from left) Cynthia Bailey (SisterCare), Faith Atkins (Care House of Florence), Teika McCollough (5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office), CPD Victims Advocate Dena Horton, Angelica Collins and Donna Thompson (Family Resource Center), Christy Vinson and Sarah Schultz (Guardians ad Litem), (back row, on right side) Agnes McDaniel (Family Resource Center), Julia Locklear (Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office) and Justin Hicks (Kershaw County Department of Social Services).

Dr. Susan Breeland Luberoff may not be from or live in Kershaw County, but she has helped county and municipal law enforcement agencies here change the way child abuse and sexual assault cases are investigated for nearly 30 years. Luberoff’s focus has been on the forensics of such cases -- the collecting and processing of evidence by medical personnel and translating that work into language and processes members of law enforcement can use in their investigations.

A Lexington County resident, Luberoff is a pediatrician and long-time faculty member at the University of South Carolina’s (USC) department of pediatrics who has known Camden Police Chief Joe Floyd for about 45 years. Early during Floyd’s career in Sumter, he and Luberoff worked on the initial grants -- as did a team in Arizona -- that helped create what are known as MDTs, or multi-disciplinary teams, across the country.

MDT members come from the worlds of law enforcement, child advocacy, social services, health care and other disciplines. The Kershaw County MDT, for example, consists of representatives from the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, Department of Social Services (DSS), local guardian ad litem program, Family Resource Center, Child Advocacy Center, The CARE House of the Pee Dee in Florence, SisterCare, Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office and Camden Police Department (CPD).

When he and Luberoff met in Sumter, Floyd was working in his department’s criminal investigative division.

“She was the go-to person for child abuse and sexual assault,” he said during Luberoff’s last meeting with the Kershaw County MDT on Dec. 8 in the CPD’s training room. “She inspired one of my Sumter investigators to go to (the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division) to investigate child and sexual abuse. She’s a credit to the medical field because she made a difference in many people’s lives by protecting children.”

Luberoff noted to her younger colleagues that their Sumter days pre-date cell phones, tracking each other down via landlines. That was then, this is now. Luberoff complimented those same colleagues by saying she “learned something every single time” she attended an MDT meeting.

But it was those same colleagues who said the same, only in reverse.

“We’ve learned very much from you,” CPD Victims Advocate Dena Horton said. “The impact of your touch on our cases -- our superiors have always said, ‘You have no idea how fortunate you are to have her.’”

One of Luberoff’s other colleagues said she first saw the pediatrician in a video presentation dealing with sexual assault victims. They said the video was “painful to watch,” but that it taught them a lot.

Another MDT member said anytime Luberoff’s name is mentioned, people are in “awe” of her work.

Luberoff appreciated the comments, but said she sees her work as being part of a pie.

“I’m very careful to stay in my piece of the pie,” she said, “and trust the rest of the pieces of the pie to do their job. All the pieces are equally valuable.”

She added that she does like to make sure the different pieces are communicating with each other.

Other MDT members talked about how they were initially shocked at the direct, blunt references to body parts and functions, but realized it was “OK, despite being uncomfortable.” They said Luberoff had a way of not minimizing those processes, but getting the concepts across in a way so that they and their colleagues could receive it.

“My goal has been that, for whoever attends those lectures, they leave with a new skill or an improved skill,” Luberoff said, especially when it comes to not just understanding medical terminology, but having that understanding positively impact the investigation of such cases.

Floyd agreed.

“I have always been left with another tool I case use to protect children and prosecute these cases,” he said.

Luberoff has, as one colleague pointed out, testified in court. There have even been times, they said, when a judge appears uncomfortable with the terminology Luberoff has to use, but that she manages to ultimately put them more at ease.

“I testify on things specific to the case so they understand the medical part,” she said, explaining that sexual assault cases can typically take two years to get to court. “Family court allows DSS up to 45 days to investigate to make a determination and, if they say to go forward, it usually takes a few months to get to court.”

Almost 30 years ago, already a pediatrician, Luberoff became the youngest faculty member in USC’s pediatrics department. About two years in, she was asked to take over a role where she would supervise the collection and processing of evidence in child abuse and sexual assault cases.

“I realized there was a need for more than just evidence collection,” she said. “So, we added in social work and child life specialists.”

Eventually, Luberoff and some colleagues started a clinic that was initially open a few hours on certain days, but grew to the point of being open every day. They took on another faculty member, who specialized in mental health and borrowed space at an orthopedics office before moving into the mental health department.

Over the years, an early version of an MDT formed with the addition of forensic interviewers, victims advocates and guardians ad litem.

Luberoff herself is an important piece of the pie -- a child abuse pediatrician, which is a board certified discipline medical students can choose to pursue.

Despite the darkness that surrounds child abuse and sexual assault cases, there is light.

“I actually have fun every single day because I’m working with non-medial people, which medical people don’t often get to do,” Luberoff explained. “Non-medical people are very professional people, very grounded.”

She sees the MDT’s job as putting the pieces of a puzzle together.

“It’s how the medical side -- injuries, sex abuse exams -- helps decide if other tests are needed and help non-medical personnel interpret the medical reports. I love languages and medicine is a language.”

Her favorite quote is, “A teacher … he can never tell where his influence stops.” To her, that means, hopefully, one of the many people who have attended or watched videos of her lectures will remember something that helps with a case.

“We help agencies figure out whether abuse has happened,” Luberoff said, explaining that about one-third of complaints turn out not to be abuse, which she said is helpful in and of itself. “If law enforcement has questions, they have access to us during the investigation, but, most of the time, I don’t know how the case turns out.”

The intensity of Luberoff’s work will wind down now that she’s announced her retirement. She said she will continue to teach first- and third-year medical students and has just accepted a part-time position with a disability service to help determine what, if any, services potential clients need.

She’s also applied to go back to school, and wants to take classes in things like geology, Italian, astronomy or linguistics. And she plans on being a “professional grandma.”

“I have four grandchildren so far,” Luberoff said, with family in Columbia, Charleston and up in Philadelphia, Pa.

That means her friends on the Kershaw County MDT won’t be seeing her as often. Colleague after colleague said a little something about her impact on their work and lives -- and gave her lots of hugs.

All of them said they would miss her, but wanted her to know one thing: what she has done and what she has taught has positively influenced their mission to protect children.

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