Prior opportunities to identify abuse in children with abusive head trauma

Child Abuse Negl. 2016 Oct;60:36-45. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2016.09.001. Epub 2016 Sep 25.


Infants with minor abusive injuries are at risk for more serious abusive injury, including abusive head trauma (AHT). Our study objective was to determine if children with AHT had prior opportunities to detect abuse and to describe the opportunities. All AHT cases from 7/1/2009 to 12/31/2011 at four tertiary care children's hospitals were included. A prior opportunity was defined as prior evaluation by either a medical or child protective services (CPS) professional when the symptoms and/or referral could be consistent with abuse but the diagnosis was not made and/or an alternate explanation was given and accepted. Two-hundred-thirty-two children with AHT were identified; median age (IQR) was 5.40 (3.30, 14.60) months. Ten percent (22/232) died. Of the 232 patients diagnosed with AHT, 31% (n=73) had a total of 120 prior opportunities. Fifty-nine children (25%) had at least one prior opportunity to identify abuse in a medical setting, representing 98 prior opportunities. An additional 14 (6%) children had 22 prior opportunities through previous CPS involvement. There were no differences between those with and without a prior opportunity based on age, gender, race, insurance, mortality, or institution. Children with prior opportunities in a medical setting were more likely to have chronic subdural hemorrhage (48 vs. 17%, p<0.01) and healing fractures (31 vs. 19%, p=0.05). The most common prior opportunities included vomiting 31.6% (38/120), prior CPS contact 20% (24/120), and bruising 11.7% (14/120). Improvements in earlier recognition of AHT and subsequent intervention might prevent additional injuries and reduce mortality.

Keywords: Abusive head trauma; Child physical abuse; Sentinel injuries.

MeSH terms

  • Child Abuse / diagnosis*
  • Child Protective Services
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnosis*
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sentinel Surveillance