Objectives: To study suspected child abuse among children in hospital in terms of clinical characteristics and the outcome of multidisciplinary case conferences.
Design: Prospective observational study.
Setting: All public hospitals in Hong Kong with a paediatric department.
Methods: Anonymous data were prospectively collected from July 1997 to June 1999 using a standard report form for each case of suspected child abuse. The characteristics of the incidents and factors influencing the conclusion at the multidisciplinary case conference were studied.
Results: Data for 592 cases of suspected child abuse were evaluated. Two hundred and eighty-seven of the children were boys and 305 were girls. The mean age was 7.3 years (range, 0-16.7 years). Physical abuse, alone or in combination with other forms of maltreatment, accounted for 277 (86.6%) of the 320 substantiated cases. Either, or both, biological parents comprised 71.3% of the perpetrators. Seven (1.2%) children died. Of the 540 children about whom a multidisciplinary case conference was held, abuse was established for 281 (52.0%) children. Abuse was more likely to be established if the victim had been known to a childcare agency (odds ratio=2.2; 95% confidence interval, 1.4-3.5), the abuse was not sexual (odds ratio=2.7; 95% confidence interval, 1.4-5.0), or if the child was seen at a hospital that handled more than 100 cases of suspected abuse during the study period (odds ratio=3.6; 95% confidence interval, 2.4-5.4).
Conclusion: Child abuse identified in the hospital setting is predominantly physical in nature and death is not uncommon. Appraisal of suspected child abuse by multidisciplinary case conference appears to be influenced by the region of Hong Kong in which the case was handled.