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Pediatricians' opinions vary on reporting threshold for suspected child abuse

HERSHEY, PAWhat look like playground injuries to one physician, may be suspected child abuse to another. A Penn State College of Medicine study reports that there is widespread inconsistency among pediatricians in how they interpret their responsibility to report suspected child abuse. Mandated reporting of child abuse has been in effect for 30 years and requires that people who interact with children in a professional capacity contact child protection services whenever they have "reasonable suspicion" that a child has been abused. Though it has been assumed that mandated reporting statutes regarding child abuse are self-explanatory, this is the first systematic investigation to examine how mandated reporters in this study, pediatricians actually interpret and apply the threshold for mandated reporting.

"We found that physicians have different interpretations and different thresholds for when 'reasonable suspicion' exists," said Benjamin H. Levi, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and humanities, Penn State College of Medicine, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. "There will always be subjectivity involved. But if pediatricians are applying the reporting guidelines in vastly different ways, this has profound implications for the children who may or may not be victims of abuse, as well as families and caregivers who are subject to inconsistent standards."

The study, released today (July 5, 2005), was published in the July 1 online edition of Pediatrics, a journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Co-authored by Georgia Brown, R.N., B.S.N., the article is titled "Reasonable Suspicion: A Study of Pennsylvania Pediatricians Regarding Child Abuse."

Levi and Brown developed a survey that included two frameworks to measure the degree of likelihood needed for suspicion of child abuse to rise to the level of "reasonable suspicion." The survey was sent to all 2,051 members of the Pennsylvania chapter of the AAP. S
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5-Jul-2005


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