Objective: To identify differences between hospitalized children injured by child abuse and those with unintentional injuries.
Design: Comparative analysis of patients injured by child abuse (n = 1997) with patients injured unintentionally (n = 16 831), newborn to 4 years of age.
Main outcome measures: Patient characteristics, nature and severity of injury, treatment, length of stay, survival, functional limitations, and disposition at discharge from the hospital.
Data source: Retrospective review of medical records submitted to the National Pediatric Trauma Registry between January 1, 1988, and December 31, 1997.
Results: During the 10-year study period, child abuse accounted for 10.6% of all blunt trauma to patients younger than 5 years. Children injured by child abuse were significantly younger (mean, 12.8 vs 25.5 months) and were more likely to have preinjury medical history (53% vs 14.1%) and retinal hemorrhages (27.8% vs 0.06%) than children with unintentional injuries. Abused children were mainly injured by battering (53%) and by shaking (10.3%); unintentionally injured children were hurt mainly by falls (58.4%) and by motor vehicle-related events (37.1%). Abused children were more likely than unintentionally injured children to sustain intracranial injury (42.2% vs 14.1%) and thoracic (12.5% vs 4.5%) and abdominal (11.4% vs 6.8%) injuries; to sustain very severe injuries (22.6% vs 6.3%); to be admitted to the intensive care unit (42.5% vs 26.9%); and to receive Child Protective Services (82.3% vs 8%) and Social Services (72.9% vs 27.6%) intervention. The mean length of stay for children who were abused was significantly longer (9.3 vs 3.8 days) and the survival to discharge from the hospital was significantly worse (87.3% vs 97.4%) than for those unintentionally injured. Among the survivors, children who were abused developed extensive functional limitations more frequently than those unintentionally injured (8.7% vs 2.7%). More than half (56.6%) of the children who were abused were discharged to custodial/foster/Child Protective Services care; most (96.1%) of the children unintentionally injured returned to their homes.
Conclusions: Child abuse continues to be a serious cause of mortality and morbidity to infants and toddlers. On average, among children hospitalized for blunt trauma, those injured by abuse sustain more severe injuries, use more medical services, and have worse survival and functional outcome than children with unintentional injuries.