Background: The goal of our study was to understand the important issues to consider when screening women for intimate partner violence in front of their children.
Methods: Interviews and focus groups were conducted with experienced family physicians and pediatricians and family violence experts (child psychologists, social workers, and domestic violence agency directors). Session transcripts were coded and categorized.
Results: Experts disagreed on the appropriateness of general screening for intimate partner violence in front of children older than 2 to 3 years. The majority thought that general questions were appropriate, if the in-depth questioning of the abused parent was done in private. Screening for child abuse when domestic violence is identified (and for domestic violence when child abuse is discovered) was recommended. Documentation about intimate partner violence in the child's medical chart raises questions about confidentiality, since the person committing the abuse may have access, if he or she is a legal guardian. Physicians need more education on the symptoms of children who are exposed to violence between adults.
Conclusions: More research is needed to understand appropriate questions and methods of screening for intimate partner violence in front of children. The tension is between practical recommendations for routine screening and preserving the safety of the parent and the children. Intimate partner violence screening by physicians is important. Interrupting the cycle of violence may give a child a better chance at maturing into a healthy adult.