Objectives: To describe (1) primary care providers' experiences identifying and reporting suspected child abuse to child protective services (CPS) and (2) variables affecting providers' reporting behavior.
Design and methods: Health care providers (76 physicians, 8 nurse practitioners, and 1 physician assistant) in a regional practice-based network completed written surveys that collected information about the demographic characteristics of each provider and practice; the provider's career experience with child abuse; and the provider's previous year's experience identifying and reporting suspected child abuse, including experience with CPS.
Results: All providers (N = 85) in 17 participating practices completed the survey. In the preceding 1 year, 48 respondents (56%) indicated that they had treated a child they suspected was abused, for an estimated total of 152 abused children. Seven (8%) of 85 providers did not report a total of 7 children with suspected abuse (5% of all suspected cases). A majority of providers (63%; n = 29) believed that children who were reported had not benefited from CPS intervention, and 21 (49%) indicated that their experience with CPS made them less willing to report future cases of suspected abuse. Providers who had some formal education in child abuse after residency were 10 times more likely to report all abuse than were providers who had none.
Conclusions: Primary care providers report most, but not all, cases of suspected child abuse that they identify. Past negative experience with CPS and perceived lack of benefit to the child were common reasons given by providers for not reporting. Education increases the probability that providers will report suspected abuse.