Updated: Sep 15
Nearly 1 million children are victims of physical abuse every year and every day, 4 to 7 children die from their injuries. These statistics are particularly grim because children who die from maltreatment often have had a healthcare encounter prior to their death.
“We all know what physical abuse is, but it’s so much bigger than a lot of us recognize,” said Sheri Carson, DNP, APRN, CPN, CPNP-PC, assistant clinical professor at the University of Arizona. “I want to stress that child maltreatment involves a lot of different things and abuse has a lot of different components to it.”
With every child and family encounter, Dr Carson urged practitioners to screen the child for physical abuse, during a presentation at the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) National Conference on Pediatric Health Care held March 15 to 18, 2023, in Orlando, Florida.
Early Detection Is Often Missed
The early detection of child physical abuse is estimated to be around only 10%, and overall, 1.3% to 15% of emergency department visits for a childhood injury are caused by physical abuse, Dr Carson said. If abuse is not detected at the initial health care visit, the recurrence rate is 35% to 50% and the risk for death is 10% to 30%. In 2021, 1820 children died from maltreatment, or 2.46 children per 100,000, according to a report from the Child Welfare League of America.
"We must report any suspicion of abuse or neglect. We do not need proof to report, only reasonable belief or suspicion."
Nurse practitioners (NPs) and other pediatric providers are often the first medical contact during a health care encounter, and sometimes the only medical contact, placing pediatric NPs in the ideal position to not only start, but also advance, the screening process for child physical abuse, Dr Carson said.