Child maltreatment is defined by the World Health Organization as abuse and neglect that occurs to children under 18 years of age. In all its forms, child maltreatment represents a substantial health burden in children and society. Approximately 700,000 cases of child abuse and neglect are reported annually in the United States. More than half of cases each year are classified as general neglect, with smaller proportions classified as physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological maltreatment, and medical neglect.
Child abuse and neglect refers to any action or failure to act that causes serious physical or emotional harm or death or puts the child at imminent risk for such harm. Recognition and diagnosis of abuse requires careful history and thorough physical examination, paying attention to concordance between the child’s developmental abilities, the reported mechanisms of injury, and the injuries identified. When a differential diagnosis includes possible abuse or maltreatment, it is important to consider medical conditions that may predispose to injury or mimic abuse (e.g., when a child presents with unexplained bruising, differential diagnosis should include bleeding disorders).
Number of Cases of Child Abuse in the United States in 2018
(Reference: Child Maltreatment 2018. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families Children’s Bureau 2018.)
Documentation of the history leading to presentation should include endorsements and denials of trauma and should be detailed in the description of any trauma history. Many victims of abuse are too young, too ill, or too scared to disclose the abuse they have survived, and, when required, interviewing children should be done in a sensitive, trauma-informed manner. Additionally, health care providers should recognize that investigative or forensic interviewing is not the role of the medical provider and should be deferred to trained specialists. Providers should also recognize that medical charting is a medicolegal document in all situations, including cases in which there is concern for child maltreatment.
Mandatory reporting: Physicians are mandated by law to report suspected child abuse and neglect to the local child protective services or law enforcement agency.
This rotation guide covers the following topics:
Other topics related to child abuse and maltreatment are covered in the following rotation guides: