Background: Child abuse and neglect is an important international health problem with unacceptable levels of morbidity and mortality. Although maltreatment as a cause of injury is estimated to be only 1% or less of the injured children attending the emergency room, the consequences of both missed child abuse cases and wrong suspicions are substantial. Therefore, the accuracy of ongoing detection at emergency rooms by health care professionals is highly important. Internationally, several diagnostic instruments or strategies for child abuse detection are used at emergency rooms, but their diagnostic value is still unknown. The aim of the study 'Child Abuse Inventory at Emergency Rooms' (CHAIN-ER) is to assess if active structured inquiry by emergency room staff can accurately detect physical maltreatment in children presenting at emergency rooms with physical injury.
Methods/design: CHAIN-ER is a multi-centre, cross-sectional study with 6 months diagnostic follow-up. Five thousand children aged 0-7 presenting with injury at an emergency room will be included. The index test - the SPUTOVAMO-R questionnaire- is to be tested for its diagnostic value against the decision of an expert panel. All SPUTOVAMO-R positives and a 15% random sample of the SPUTOVAMO-R negatives will undergo the same systematic diagnostic work up, which consists of an adequate history being taken by a pediatrician, inquiry with other health care providers by structured questionnaires in order to obtain child abuse predictors, and by additional follow-up information. Eventually, an expert panel (reference test) determines the true presence or absence of child abuse.
Discussion: CHAIN-ER will determine both positive and negative predictive value of a child abuse detection instrument used in the emergency room. We mention a benefit of the use of an expert panel and of the use of complete data. Conducting a diagnostic accuracy study on a child abuse detection instrument is also accompanied by scientific hurdles, such as the lack of an accepted reference standard and potential (non-) response. Notwithstanding these scientific challenges, CHAIN-ER will provide accurate data on the predictive value of SPUTOVAMO-R.