Return to jeopardy: the fate of pediatric burn patients who are victims of abuse and neglect

J Burn Care Rehabil. 1998 Jul-Aug;19(4):367-76; discussion 366-7.


Child abuse and neglect continue to account for a significant number of pediatric burn injuries. Although the epidemiology of intentional burn injuries has been studied, this report compares victims of abuse with victims of neglect. Furthermore, we investigate the long-term fate of both victim and perpetrator. A retrospective search of the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center database identified 21 abuse and 21 neglect patients among 238 pediatric admissions (mean age, 5.4 years, mean surface area 14%) from 1992 to 1994. The medical, social, and legal records of each patients were examined by two independent reviewers. History, hospital course, and disposition were compared between groups by chi-square analysis and Student's t test. Compared with victims of neglect, abused children were slightly younger (2.1 vs 2.7 years), had somewhat larger burns (12.3% vs 9.05 total body surface area), had inconsistent mechanisms of injury (90% vs 33%, p < 0.002) that were bathroom related (81% vs 29%, p < 0.001), were likely to have a history of abuse (57% vs 24%, p < 0.05) or stigmata of abuse on exam (43% vs 14%, p < 0.05), had longer lengths of stay (23.8 vs 14.1 days, p < 0.05), had similar complication rates, and were place more often in foster care (65% vs 15%, p < 0.01). Inpatient mortality was 5%. Mean follow-up was 108 days, during which time two children were readmitted for repeat abuse. Regarding the caregivers, 57% were single mothers, 36% had been investigated for abuse or neglect, and 12% had lost custody of other children. Of the perpetrators involved in abuse, 71% were charged with a felony, 43% were convicted, and 19% were incarcerated longer than 30 days. Victims of burn abuse and neglect differ considerably in terms of history and disposition but not hospital course. Children in both groups, however, remain at risk for abuse and neglect after discharge. We recommend that more aggressive efforts be made to secure safe environments for these children and that the perpetrator, if clearly identified, be dealt with in a fashion to prevent recurrence of the offense.

MeSH terms

  • Burns / complications
  • Burns / epidemiology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Foster Home Care
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Medical Records
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Single Parent