Primary care pediatricians' experience, comfort and competence in the evaluation and management of child maltreatment: do we need child abuse experts?

Child Abuse Negl. 2009 Feb;33(2):76-83. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2008.09.003. Epub 2009 Mar 10.


Objective: We assessed the self-reported experience, comfort and competence of primary care pediatricians in evaluating and managing child maltreatment (CM), in rendering opinions regarding the likelihood of CM, and in providing court testimony. We examined pediatricians' need for expert consultation when evaluating possible maltreatment.

Methods: A questionnaire was mailed to 520 randomly selected AAP members. Pediatricians were asked how frequently they evaluated and reported children for suspected maltreatment, and whether child abuse pediatricians were available to and used by them. Pediatricians were asked to rate their knowledge, comfort and competence in the management of CM. Demographic information was also gathered. Pediatricians' experience with CM, their comfort, self-reported competence, and need for expert assistance is described. Logistic regression was used to assess factors that predicted pediatricians' sense of competence while controlling for covariates found to be significant in bivariate analyses.

Results: One hundred forty-seven questionnaires were eligible for analysis. The majority of respondents had little experience evaluating and reporting suspected CM, and was interested in having expert consultation. While pediatricians often felt competent in conducting medical exams for suspected maltreatment, they felt less competent in rendering a definitive opinion, and did not generally feel competent to testify in court. Sense of competence was particularly low for sexual abuse. Increased practice experience and more courses in CM led to increased sense of competence in some areas.

Conclusions: Pediatricians acknowledged many limitations to providing care to maltreated children, and expressed interest in subspecialist input.

Practice implications: These findings add additional support to the American Board of Pediatrics' decision to create a Child Abuse Pediatrics subspecialty. The findings also indicate a need to ensure funding for fellowship training programs in this field.

Publication types

  • Letter
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / diagnosis*
  • Child Abuse / therapy*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pediatrics*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Professional Competence*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires