Assessment of factors resulting in abuse evaluations in young children with minor head trauma

Child Abuse Negl. 2008 Mar;32(3):405-13. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2007.06.007. Epub 2008 Mar 28.


Objective: The primary objective was to determine which of the examined factors prompted physicians to initiate a further abuse evaluation in young children with minor head injury. The recording of important historical elements in the charts of these patients was also evaluated.

Methods: Charts of 349 children less than 3 years of age with minor head injury were retrospectively reviewed. Age, race, sex, insurance status, findings on head CT, mechanism of injury, witnessing of event and delay in seeking care were analyzed for association with performance of skeletal survey and referral to Child Protective Services (CPS).

Results: Increased odds of CPS referral and increased odds of obtaining a skeletal survey were associated with positive findings on head CT, delay in seeking care, and unknown mechanism of injury. Despite a known association of age/ambulatory status with abuse, the age of the child was not associated with increased odds of abuse evaluation, and younger age was not associated with increased odds of documenting whether the injury was witnessed or when the injury occurred. Documentation of timing of injury was lacking in 29.2% of the charts. Witnessing of the event was undocumented in 48.7% of cases.

Conclusion: Clinicians may not be using readily available, important information when considering the initiation of an abuse evaluation in young children. Clinicians seeing acutely injured children may need further education regarding developmental status and its effect on mechanisms of injury and the importance of detailed documentation in cases where abuse is a possible cause of injury.

Practice implications: Historical factors associated with injuries in young children continue to be poorly documented. Increased pediatric training for emergency medicine physicians, clinical protocols for evaluation and documentation of injured children, and regular continuing medical education on child development and its implications on mechanisms of injury for clinicians practicing in acute care settings are needed changes that may bring about improvements.

MeSH terms

  • Catchment Area, Health
  • Child Abuse / diagnosis*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnosis*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / epidemiology*
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Injury Severity Score
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Texas / epidemiology