Pediatrics Group Advises Doctors on How to Spot Child Abuse

A parent’s primary responsibility is to ensure that their child is safe and healthy, but sadly, not all parents follow these guidelines. Often, people who see children frequently are at the front line of reporting and stopping child abuse. However, injuries are a common part of childhood, as they often end up with cuts, scrapes, bruises and broken bones from sports, exploring and other innocent activities. Several pediatrics groups offer advice to doctors as to potential signs of child abuse and what to do if a doctor suspects that one of their patients is a victim. 

Reported Cases of Abuse May Be Dropping

The Office of the Administration of Children and Families, a department of Health and Human Services, reported that, “A nationally estimated 754,000 duplicate and 695,000 unique number of children were found to be victims of child maltreatment in the Federal fiscal year (FFY) 2010. This year more than one-half of States (29) reported a decreased number of victims when compared to FFY 2009.” Although the decrease of instances of child abuse is good news, the number of victims is still high and warrants vigilance on the part of pediatricians. 

Risk Factors

While not all children who are being raised in the following circumstances are victims of child abuse or neglect, certain factors may increase their risk. According to a brochure titled “Primary Care Interventions to Prevent Child Maltreatment,” published by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, “Various factors increase the risk that a child will be abused or neglected. Children who are cared for by families with limited knowledge about how to care for a child are at increased risk for abuse and neglect. Children in families with the following are also at increased risk: strained or bad relationships, drug abuse, and social isolation (not having friends or family around to help). Poverty, too, increases the chance that a child will be abused or neglected. Many children are abused or neglected by adults who were themselves abused as children.” If a pediatrician knows that her patient lives in a household in which his or her chances of being a victim are increased, she should pay close attention to warning signs of abuse. 

Kids May Be Hesitant To Talk

Children who are being abused are often hesitant to speak up, because they may fear retribution from their abusers. Abuse is often a closely guarded family secret, and many of these children may be suffering from depression, PTSD and other side effects. It is important for doctors to look for cues that this may be the case with their patient. The Mayo Clinic advises that one of the main signs for doctors to look out for is injuries that don’t match the explanation given by the caregiver or injuries with no viable explanation. The organization also advises that children who are being abused may be withdrawn, rebellious or anxious. If a pediatrician notices any of these signs, they should take note. 

By law, all medical professionals are required to report suspicions of child abuse to the proper authorities. They may also recommend a therapist to provide a supportive environment for the child to share, and they will gather information to turn over to the authorities. If you are a parent and notice any of the symptoms listed above, schedule an appointment with your child’s doctor to get more information and resources to help your child recover. If you are a family doctor or caregiver who suspects that a child may have been abused by a parent, report it to the proper authorities. Be detailed, so the authorities can determine whether or not to launch an investigation. Keeping children safe is a priority for every parent and caregiver, and responsible adults are the first step in prevention.