Non-accidental burns in children

Burns. 1998 Sep;24(6):552-8. doi: 10.1016/s0305-4179(98)00062-x.


A retrospective review of five hundred and seven consecutive admissions to a state-wide paediatric burns unit over a three year period was made to assess the characteristics of the burn injuries and to see which, if any, characteristics would help to distinguish accidental burns from burns which were due to abuse or neglect. In 86% of admissions (the 'accident group') it was considered that the injury was accidental, with no evidence of deliberate injury or gross neglect. Eight percent of admissions (the 'abuse/neglect group') were referred to the State Department of Community Services for abuse or neglect resulting in the Department becoming involved in the family's management. In six percent of cases (the 'concern group') the Unit had concerns that the family's emotional or social situation was a significant factor in the child's injury, or made further injury more likely, and discussed the family's situation with the Department, but formal intervention was not undertaken by the Department. There were no differences between the groups in age or mortality. Children in the 'abuse/neglect' and the 'concern' groups were more likely to require skin grafting and treatment in the intensive care unit. They were more likely to come from single parent families and were more likely to have burns involving both hands or both legs. There were few other distinguishing factors. The incidence of prior notification for abuse and neglect was four percent for the 'accident' group, 14% for the 'concern' group and 46% for the 'abuse/neglect' group. This is considerably higher in the 'concern' and 'abuse/neglect' groups than the annual state incidence of 1.73% for abuse and neglect notifications. While the clinical features of a burn may often not be helpful in reaching a diagnosis of abuse or neglect as a cause of the burn, it appears that many children who have non-accidental burns have also had prior notifications for other types of abuse or neglect.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Accidents
  • Adolescent
  • Burn Units / statistics & numerical data
  • Burns / diagnosis
  • Burns / epidemiology
  • Burns / etiology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse* / diagnosis
  • Child Abuse* / statistics & numerical data
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Mandatory Reporting
  • New South Wales / epidemiology
  • Patient Admission / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Trauma Severity Indices