Child Abuse and Neglect

6 Child Abuse and Neglect

Child abuse and neglect constitute a pediatric public health problem of enormous magnitude. Their relative contribution to morbidity and mortality in children is likewise huge. In addition to the fact that more than 900,000 children are identified as substantiated victims each year, approximately 140,000 incur serious injuries and nearly 20,000 are left with permanent physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy and blindness. The toll on emotional development is even more significant.

The incidence of reported cases of abuse and neglect has increased within much of the twentieth century, in part due to improved identification and reporting. Whereas in the past 20 years there has been a decline in substantiated cases of physical and sexual abuse, there has been no change in mortality rates. Caffey in the late 1940s and then Kempe and coworkers in the early 1960s fostered a marked increase in the recognition of the physical manifestations of abuse and of the very real needs and problems of child abuse victims. Subsequent passage of legislation in all 50 states mandating that suspected cases be reported to the proper authorities has further increased the incidence of reporting. Thus, although some of the increasing incidence is real, much is probably the result of these developments. In addition, societal standards have changed, for some of what is currently regarded as abuse was once sanctioned as discipline.

Four major forms of abuse have been delineated: physical abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional abuse. Not infrequently, an individual child is found to be the victim of more than one form and there is some degree of emotional abuse with all forms. For purposes of reporting under child protection laws, the abuse or neglect generally must result from the acts or omissions of a parent, guardian, custodian, or other caretaker of the child.

Of reported cases about 60% involved neglect, 19% physical abuse, 9% sexual abuse, and 5% were identified as emotionally maltreated. These figures may significantly underestimate the actual number as it is estimated that for every case reported, at least two go unreported. Clearly, some, perhaps many, reports concerning truly abused children are inaccurately determined to be unfounded, sometimes because regulations preclude this if a perpetrator cannot be clearly identified despite the fact that the child has clearly been the victim of abuse. Misleading/deceptive histories, limited investigative resources, lack of witnesses, inability or unwillingness of victims and family members to attest to the fact that abuse has occurred, and jurisdictional regulations all contribute to this phenomenon.

Fatality statistics have also been found to have limited accuracy. The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) estimates that there were about 1740 deaths in 2008. This is an increase from approximately 1500 cases in 2003 and is likely due to recent improvements in the reporting and investigation of child fatalities. This in turn probably reflects improved recognition of child abuse–related deaths as a result of the institution of child death review teams in most states. Of fatal victims, 40% to 50% are younger than 1 year of age, and 85% to 90% are 5 years of age or younger. Researchers looking at data from additional sources have determined that many, perhaps the majority, of deaths due to abuse are misclassified as due to accident, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), or natural or unknown causes. Reasons for misclassification include incomplete medical evaluation; delay in or inadequate death scene investigation, or no scene investigation; lack of sufficient training of coroners and pathologists regarding child abuse and the techniques and studies necessary to identify abuse at autopsy; failure to require manner of death, as well as cause, on death certificates; and poor communication among investigative agencies. Thus most authorities believe 2000 deaths per year is a more accurate figure, although this, too, may be a significant underestimate. To put this in further perspective, the number of deaths due to abuse of children younger than 5 years is greater than the number due to motor vehicle accidents and fires combined and is more than twice the number of deaths due to accidental choking or suffocation, drowning, and falls combined.

The most common causes of death due to abuse are head trauma, abdominal trauma, and suffocation. Of these, intentional suffocation is most likely to go undetected, as autopsy findings may simulate SIDS. It now appears that a large percentage of cases of SIDS are actually due to accidental suffocation as a result of sleeping prone on a soft surface, of getting the face covered in bed clothing, or of co-sleeping with one or more adults whether in bed or on a sofa or easy chair. The Back to Sleep campaign, begun by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and efforts to educate parents about the risks of co-sleeping have dramatically reduced the incidence of these tragic deaths. Further review of co-sleeping deaths points to a disturbing number of cases in which the adult sleeping with the child has a history of substance misuse.

All sudden unexpected deaths in infancy warrant thorough investigation to facilitate accurate determination of cause, assess for possible foul play, and aid in future prevention. Certain historical points and physical findings may aid in distinguishing SIDS from intentional suffocation. Infants dying of SIDS are usually younger than 6 months of age, previously well (or have only mild symptoms of an upper respiratory infection), and found unresponsive in the early morning when their parents awaken. In contrast, those dying of intentional suffocation may range from weeks to 2 or 3 years of age and are more likely to be “found” sometime between mid-morning and late afternoon or evening, after a period of being with a single caretaker. In some, subtle bruises or petechiae of the face and/or neck or scant bleeding from the nose or mouth may be noted. Many of these infants have a history of a recent hospitalization for an unexplained illness or for apnea, seizure-like activity, or an apparent life-threatening event (ALTE), for which no cause could be found despite an extensive medical workup. This or a past history of multiple apparent life-threatening events and/or a history of two or more prior sibling deaths attributed to SIDS should raise strong suspicion of intentional smothering.


Child abuse is a phenomenon found in all socioeconomic, cultural, racial, ethnic, and religious subsets of society. The reported incidence per capita is greatest in lower socio-economic groups. This stems in part from the numerous chronic stresses and uncertainties of living in poverty, problems of socialization, and different attitudes regarding what constitutes appropriate discipline. It is also clear, and must be recognized by physicians and other professionals, that well-educated parents of higher socioeconomic status can be abusive; however, when they are, they are less likely to be suspected. This is in part because they “come across well” as they tend to be well dressed, well spoken, more sophisticated, and have a more confident demeanor than parents who are less well off. Also, they are often better able to fabricate a plausible history of how the injury occurred “accidentally.” Furthermore, when suspected, they are less likely to be reported, and when reported, they are more likely to have the resources and legal assistance to have the case dropped or dismissed, or to be acquitted of the charges. Hence in evaluating potential abuse victims and their families, it is important not to rush to judgment of parents on the basis of appearance, dress, and level of sophistication, and professionals should appreciate that many parents who are poor, unsophisticated, and not well dressed are loving and caring despite their limited means and resources.

The most valuable information is gained by a nonjudg-mental approach while keeping an open mind in obtaining a thorough history, making careful behavioral and interactional observations, performing meticulous examination, and ordering a well-considered laboratory and imaging evaluation before arriving at a diagnosis.

Parental Risk Factors for Child Abuse and Neglect

1 Past history of being abused or neglected as a child. Although this is a significant risk factor, it is important to note that not all abused children grow up to become abusive adults. Those who do not have been found to have had a strong, long-standing, and supportive relationship, from early childhood, with a nurturing and nonabusive adult who loved them unconditionally, helped them recognize their own worth, and taught them how to make good choices. This enables them to develop trusting relationships and, hence, better social support systems.

2 Poor socialization and emotional and social isolation. Inadequately nurtured themselves as children, these parents are poorly equipped to adequately nurture their offspring. Their own mothers may not have bonded well with them, and/or their trust may have been betrayed repeatedly by those they loved unconditionally and should have been able to count on most. They may have been shuttled back and forth between the parental home and relatives’ or foster homes or placed in a series of foster homes over the course of years. As a result, they have trouble with trust and forming close attachments, and hence, are poorly equipped to develop and use support systems. They tend to have little understanding of child development and of children’s emotional and other needs and, therefore, of good child-rearing practices and reasonable expectations of child behavior. E-Tables 6-1 and 6-2 present common features of many of the families of origin of abusive parents/caretakers, as well as their child-rearing practices, which then tend to be repeated by these younger parents and by ensuing generations. E-Table 6-3 presents common character traits and historical revelations of many poorly socialized parents/caretakers and of those with character disorders.

3 Limited ability to deal adaptively with stress and negative emotions such as fear, anger, and frustration, compounded by a tendency to lash out violently, verbally and/or physically, in response to negative feelings. This behavior is often learned by example in their families of origin.

4 Alcoholism/substance abuse. When intoxicated or high, such parents may be “out of it” or may be disinhibited in approaching or dealing with their children. They also may be away for extended periods, seeking their substance of choice or the wherewithal to obtain it.

5 Mental illness (e-Table 6-4).

6 Domestic violence in the parental relationship.

7 Being subjected to a sudden spate of major life stresses/crises such as loss of job and financial security; loss of home; loss of parent, spouse, or sibling.

8 Membership in certain fringe group cults or sects.

e-Table 6-1 Common Characteristics of the Family of Origin of Poorly Socialized Adults Given in Psychosocial History*

History Potential Effect on Children
Evidence suggestive of impaired bonding Failure of bonding in first 6 months results in the following:
Maternal depression postpartum Inability/impaired ability to truly attach, trust, and, ultimately, to nurture
Mother chose to go right back to work Inability to feel empathy or remorse
“We were never close”  
Separation/divorce/abandonment Fracture of parent–child bond, especially in early childhood, can result in long-term anger, distrust, emotional distance, self-doubt, and antisocial behavior
Discord/domestic violence
CPS involvement
Alcohol/substance abuse
These situations all may cause the following:
Anxiety, fears for self and siblings, for victimized parent
Chronic sense of uncertainty
Difficulty concentrating

CPS, Child Protective Services.

* These characteristics are often repeated in subsequent generations.

e-Table 6-2 Common Characteristics of Child-rearing Practices of Family of Origin of Poorly Socialized Adults*

* These characteristics are often passed on to ensuing generations.

e-Table 6-3 Character Traits and Historical Revelations of Parents/Caretakers Who Are Poorly Socialized or Have Character Disorders

Traits Revelations in History
Self-focused Unable to truly love/care for another and put the other’s needs first
  Everything they recount in the history is in relation to themselves
  Talk more about themselves than their child
Jealous of spouse’s/significant other’s attention to the child “She spends too much time with him/her”
“She babies him”
“She loves that kid more than me”
Jealous of child’s preference for spouse/significant other “He’s a momma’s boy, always wants to be with/run to his mother”
“He’ll come to me but then runs right back to his mother”
Psychopathic/sociopathic tendencies Little or no conscience/capacity for empathy/remorse
  No compunction about lying and lie quite convincingly
Poor impulse control, short fuse, bad temper History of behavior problems—fights, school suspensions
Take little or no responsibility for their own failures; instead blame others Did not finish school “because the principal had it in for me”
Cannot hold a job for more than a few months “because the managers are all nuts”

e-Table 6-4 Mental Illness Seen in Some Abusive Adults

Mental Illness Characteristics
Severe depression No energy, often cannot even get out of bed
  Inability to nurture or relate
Bipolar disease Cycling of emotional highs and lows
  Inconsistency (children never know what is going to happen next)
  Explosive behavior
Schizophrenia Hallucinations/delusions/psychosis: including voices postpartum saying the infant/child is “evil,” “must be punished,” “must die”

Note: Often parents with mental illness are resistant to seeking and participating in therapy and to consistently taking their medications.

Child Risk Factors

Two situations place children at particularly high risk for abuse. One involves a couple with an unplanned pregnancy that one parent did not want and then pushed for abortion, and which the other insisted on carrying to term. After delivery, such infants can be at significant risk when left alone in the care of the parent who opposed the pregnancy. The other involves a common pattern in which a young (often teenage) mother who has trouble with attachment and low self-esteem mistakes “attention” and sex for love and, thus, has poor judgment in her selection of boyfriends. These young women may then have a revolving door for paramours who opportunistically move in for weeks to months and then leave only to be replaced by another. These men also tend to have attachment issues and often have poor impulse control. Further, they have no vested interest in her offspring by other men and thus may have no compunction about “batting them around” when they become a source of irritation, misbehave, or have accidents while these men are “babysitting.”

One common thread connecting all of these risk factors appears to be one of unmet expectations, due to either unrealistic parental expectations of the child or the child’s inability to meet realistic expectations as the result of developmental delay, illness, temperament, hyperactivity, or inconsistent disciplining. Typically this stems from lack of parental understanding of normal child behavior and emotional development, and of their children’s basic needs for nurturing. The combination can then lead the parent or caretaker to attribute malicious intent to an infant who will not stop crying or to a toddler who has had a toilet training accident, is stubborn, or misbehaves. Once “malicious intent” is suspected, this can incite rage in someone with a short fuse.

With this background information, the approach to diagnosis of the major forms of abuse can now be addressed more specifically.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is defined as the infliction of bodily injury that causes significant or severe pain, leaves physical evidence, impairs physical functioning, or significantly jeopardizes the child’s safety. Individual states have varying definitions of what constitutes abuse reportable to Child Protective Services (CPS) and law enforcement agencies, and practitioners should become familiar with the guidelines in their own states. Many of the methods used by perpetrators are listed in Table 6-1, and weapons commonly employed are detailed in Table 6-2.

Table 6-1 Methods Used in Physical Abuse

Table 6-2 Weapons Commonly Used in Physical Abuse

Infants and toddlers are at greatest risk for physical abuse because they are unable to escape attack, and are developmentally incapable of meeting many expectations and of knowing when to “keep a low profile.” Given their small size and physical immaturity, they are also the most vulnerable to severe injury. Common triggers for abusive behavior toward infants are crying, especially prolonged or inconsolable crying, and feeding problems. Crying may be due to hunger; pain with illness such as otitis media and esophagitis with gastroesophageal reflux; gas pain due to aerophagia either precipitated by or induced by respiratory disease or frequent feeding interruptions in avid feeders; and pain from prior inflicted trauma (rib or extremity fractures or CNS irritability from head injury). Feeding problems may stem from neurologic or oral–motor disorders, oropharyngeal deformities (such as cleft palate), or pain on swallowing due to oral lesions or reflux-induced esophagitis. With toddlers, difficulties in toilet training, toileting accidents, getting into things they are not supposed to touch, and stubbornness or negativism are common inciting factors. Failure to follow orders or instructions, oppositional or defiant behavior, and getting into trouble at school are notable triggers of abuse of older children.

The spectrum of severity of injuries caused by physical abuse ranges from isolated surface bruising that may be a product of overzealous discipline to fatal head and abdominal trauma that is the result of extremely violent rage reactions. Important to remember is that relatively unimpressive surface marks or injuries may be associated with far more significant underlying skeletal, abdominal, and CNS trauma (see Fig. 6-13). In addition, it is well known that physical abuse tends to be repetitive and that the severity of attacks tends to escalate over time; so does, correspondingly, the severity of injuries. Given this, early recognition, reporting, and intervention are essential in prevention of increased morbidity and mortality. Early recognition can be difficult for a number of reasons. Children with milder injuries generally are not brought to medical attention and may even be kept from those outside the immediate family until visible bruises or other surface injuries fade. Further, when care is sought, a misleading or deceptive history is almost always given. If a plausible history of accidental injury is provided (as can be the case with more sophisticated abusive parents), abuse may go unsuspected. However, when emergency department physicians make it a general practice to disrobe children and perform a complete surface examination on all those who present with mild or minor trauma, the diagnosis of otherwise unsuspected abuse rises dramatically because of identification of suspicious physical findings on other areas of the body, especially those ordinarily covered by clothing. Because presenting signs and symptoms are often nonspecific, recognition can be particularly challenging when the victim of mild to moderate inflicted trauma is a young infant and has no surface injuries or ones that are subtle and easily overlooked. Listlessness or lethargy, irritability or fussiness, vomiting (usually without diarrhea), low-grade fever, and vague complaints of trouble with breathing in infants with milder degrees of inflicted head injury can easily be interpreted as being due to early viral infection. Irritability due to pain from rib and metaphyseal fractures may be mistakenly diagnosed as due to colic or constipation (which may coexist due to stool withholding secondary to pain). Grunting respirations due to rib pain are likely to be attributed to early pulmonary disease such as bronchiolitis or pneumonitis. Relatively rapid dissipation of pain and tenderness (often within 2 to 5 days) in infants with nondisplaced fractures (due to their thick periosteal covering, which resists tearing and promotes prompt healing) can add to the diagnostic difficulty, particularly when presentation is delayed.

Hence diagnosis requires a high index of suspicion when infants, especially young infants, present with uneplained irritability and/or lethargy, with or without grunting respirations, and with vomiting without diarrhea. Unusual thoroughness in history taking and physical examination is a must. This includes asking if fussiness or irritability is or was worse with movement, on being picked up, or when held by the chest. The physical examination should include a meticulous surface assessment searching for faint bruises or petechiae including a Wood’s lamp examination (see the section Bruises, Welts, and Scars); careful palpation of ribs and extremities for tenderness (with particular attention to posterior ribs and long bone metaphyses); and dilated retinoscopy, all of which can be revealing. When a history of pain on motion or bony tenderness is found or when subtle surface injuries are noted, a skeletal survey is indicated, perhaps followed by a bone scan (see the sections on fractures, under Skeletal Injuries). The presence of metaphyseal and rib fractures and/or retinal hemorrhages mandates a head computed tomography (CT) scan (because of their association with subdural hematomas).

Regardless of whether or not abuse is the source of crying and irritability, when presented with an infant with these complaints, physicians should not be quick to jump to the diagnosis of colic, constipation, or “normal fussiness.” Rather, they should institute a thorough search for a precise cause including inflicted trauma in the differential. Once the cause is found, appropriate measures should be taken and clear recommendations should be given to parents with irritable infants as to what they can do to relieve the baby’s symptoms, as this may save some from future abuse.

Of note, there is a demonstrated increase in admissions for serious inflicted injury of infants around 6 to 8 weeks of age. This has been attributed to a normal increase in crying from birth to 2 to 8 weeks “unrelated to any underlying pathology.” The majority of this crying does not have an identifiable cause and is observed across cultures. Given the fact that many, if not most, young infants admitted with serious inflicted trauma have evidence of prior painful injuries, often of differing ages, it is likely that the true cause of their crying went undetected. This could be because no prior care was sought or because when sought, signs of tenderness had abated, symptoms were nonspecific, or the exact cause was not assiduously sought and was therefore missed.

The disturbing incidence of severe and fatal cases of physical abuse has led to an effort to detect identifiable risk factors that might be predictive of fatal outcome. The majority of perpetrators of such abuse who have been studied were abused themselves as children. Poverty, unemployment, a long history of family violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and adolescent parenthood were common threads. Fathers and paramours are by far the most common perpetrators, responsible for up to 58% of the cases of severe and fatal beatings, followed by babysitters in up to 21% and mothers in up to 13%. Crying and toilet training accidents were the most common triggering events. Victims frequently had histories or evidence of prior suspicious injuries, often of a series of injuries of increasing severity, before the final beating. Mothers are more likely to be the perpetrators of death by suffocation and neglect.

The diagnosis of inflicted injury is established on the basis of a constellation of factors including historical, physical, and behavioral observations. Approaching the case with an open mind, obtaining a thorough present and past medical and psychosocial history, and meticulous physical examination are crucial to ensuring accurate diagnosis of inflicted trauma as well as in preventing overdiagnosis of abuse. Important elements are detailed in Tables 6-3 and 6-4. Radiographs and laboratory studies (complete blood count [CBC] and differential, liver function tests [LFTs], amylase, lipase, prothrombin time/partial thromboplastin time [PT/PTT], coagulation profile) are useful, not only in identifying and confirming injuries, but also in detecting evidence of occult trauma and ruling out other differential diagnostic possibilities.

Table 6-4 Physical Examination for Suspected Physical Abuse

Behavioral/Interactional Red Flags

Few victims of physical abuse are brought in with a chief complaint of abuse. Most present with a chief complaint of an accidental injury or of an unrelated (cold, rash) or somewhat peripheral (lethargy, irritability) chief complaint. Whenever the physician’s suspicion is aroused by historical or observational findings, he or she (or a designated social worker) should obtain a detailed psychosocial history, seeking more information concerning the family’s current living situation, stresses, and emotional support systems. Particular attention should be paid to recent family crises including personal (ill health, job loss, separation) and environmental (pending eviction, heat or utilities discontinued) crises; degree of isolation (no family or social supports, no phone); and prior problems with family violence, mental health, alcohol, or drugs. Answers to questions about methods of discipline and parental reactions to common triggering events such as prolonged crying, toilet training accidents, and stubborn behavior can be most illuminating, as can answers to questions about how they felt when they learned of the baby’s pregnancy, when they first saw the baby, and what the baby is like (see Table 6-3). Although a detailed history takes time, it can be invaluable in facilitating accurate diagnosis, individualizing care, arranging appropriate family supports, and assisting CPS and law enforcement in their investigations. This and the medical history should be obtained in a supportive, nonjudgmental manner because aggressive interrogation will only serve to alienate the parent, limiting the value of the data obtained.

During the evaluation one should bear in mind that the person who has brought the child in for care may not be the abuser, and that many parents of abused children truly want help, whether they have been directly abusive or unable to protect their child from abuse. In many cases a parent may have been unaware that abuse was occurring, had suspicions but no confirmation, suspected on some level but did not want to believe that abuse could be occurring, or was too fearful of an abusive mate to come in earlier. In some cases an abusive parent accompanies the child and the nonabusive parent in an effort to keep up a good front and to prevent disclosure. In occasional instances the nonabusive parent may actually be supportive of the abuser’s “harsh discipline.”

Table 6-5 presents additional historical and behavioral clues that may become apparent in the course of interviewing the parents/caretakers of an abused child.

Table 6-5 Historical and Behavioral Clues from Caretakers’ Demeanor during Interview

Note: Perpetrators often disclose a watered-down version of what they did when abusing the child when asked what they think might have happened to cause the injuries found.

In approaching abused children, one must recognize that their parents are the only ones they know; that they love them and, usually, their other caretakers; and that at times, they may even feel in some way deserving of abuse. Young children rarely acknowledge that a parent or other caretaker has injured them, especially when questioned directly, often because they have been threatened or sworn to secrecy. If they can be interviewed alone (when old enough to give a history) in pleasant, nonthreatening surroundings, helpful historical information can often be obtained by means of nonleading questions and through drawings or play. In some cases in which the perpetrator is a paramour of the mother, and has not been around long, the child may be more willing to disclose, especially when he or she can honestly be reassured that they will have no further contact with him and is, therefore, safe from further assault.

It is also important to remember that siblings, especially older siblings, can often provide useful historical information. Strong consideration should be given to interviewing them as soon as possible after abuse is identified. Their histories can be quite helpful, and they may prove to be good witnesses in subsequent hearings.

Physical Findings and Patterns of Injury

Surface Marks

The most obvious manifestations of physical abuse are those visible on the surface of the skin. They include bruises, welts, scars, abrasions, lacerations, tourniquet and bite marks, and burns. Despite differing opinions on the appropriateness or inappropriateness of physical methods of discipline, there is a good rule of thumb in distinguishing the boundary between discipline and abuse: Discipline does not inflict significant pain and does not cause physical injury or leave marks.

All external signs of trauma found should be carefully documented in writing, on body diagrams, and in photographs (preferably with a ruler and color wheel in the frame).

Bruises, Welts, and Scars

Bruises are the most common clinical finding in cases of physical abuse, seen in up to 75% of victims, and their presence should prompt a search for other, deeper injuries. Inflicted bruises and welts may be the result of direct blows or of impacts with firm objects when pushed, shoved, thrown, or swung into them. They frequently involve more than one plane of an extremity, the torso, and/or head, and are often found in places that are unusual sites for accidental injury (see the section Differential Diagnosis of Inflicted Injuries versus Findings Caused by Accident or Illness, later). These include the back, buttocks, upper arms, thighs, abdomen, perineum, and feet, all of which are typically covered by clothing and, thereby, hidden from public view (Figs. 6-1 and 6-2). When due to slaps or blows, these locations suggest some forethought in site selection. Among other unusual sites are the face (including the periorbital area and eyelids, cheeks, sides of the forehead, lateral aspects of the chin and mouth), ears, neck, hands, calves, and volar or ulnar (defensive posture) aspects of the forearms. Being more exposed, bruises in these areas may reflect greater impulsivity on the part of the perpetrator.

Bruises involving the head, face, mouth, neck, and ears (Fig. 6-3) are seen in a substantial percentage of physical abuse victims: approximately 50% of infants and 38% of toddlers. Subgaleal hematomas and contusions and petechiae involving the scalp may be the result of direct blows or impacts against hard surfaces. On occasion they are caused by forceful hair pulling (Fig. 6-4). Slaps of moderate force may produce diffuse bruising with petechiae (Fig. 6-5). More forceful slaps leave handprint marks, consisting of petechial outlines of the fingers of the perpetrator as maximal capillary distortion occurs at the margins of the fingers on impact (Fig. 6-6). Periorbital and eyelid bruises in the absence of evidence of an overlying forehead hematoma or abrasion, or of an accidentally incurred frontal skull fracture, are likely to be inflicted and caused by direct blows to the face (Fig. 6-7, A and B).


Figure 6-4 Subgaleal hematomas. This toddler, in the care of mother’s paramour, was reportedly well until about 45 minutes after being put to bed, when she “woke up screaming.” On being picked up, she was noted to have a “mushy head.” At the hospital, she was found to have large bilateral subgaleal hematomas, with surface bruising and petechiae over the occipitoparietal scalp. She also had semicircular bruises behind her left ear consistent with fingernail marks. Skull radiographs and a head CT scan showed no evidence of skull fracture or intracranial injury. Further examination revealed extensive bruising and lacerations of the introitus consistent with sexual assault (see Fig. 6-92 B). The perpetrator apparently grabbed her by her hair and by her head, leaving fingernail marks while in the process of assaulting her. Her hair was pulled so forcibly that the scalp was pulled away from the skull, leading to the extensive subgaleal bleeding, which continued to expand over the ensuing 72 hours. A, Thinning of the hair from hair loss and bruising of the scalp are evident, and the subgaleal hematoma over her left temporal area is so large that it is pushing her external ear out laterally. B, Curvilinear marks behind her left ear are fingernail impressions.

Surface injuries involving more than one plane of the head or face are highly suspicious for abuse. It is also important to recognize that contusions of the head, face, and ears are often associated with underlying intracranial injury, especially in infants. Such injuries are indicative of severe loss of control and intent to harm on the part of the perpetrating caregiver and have serious implications for the child’s future safety unless he or she is removed from contact with the offender.

Round impressions of the thumb and forefinger may be seen on the cheeks, sides of the forehead, or sides of the chin in infants and young children who have been grasped and forcefully squeezed (see Fig. 6-1, B). Similar fingerprint bruises may be noted on the upper arms, trunk, abdomen, or extremities where the infant has been grasped and held tightly while being shaken or forcibly restrained (see Fig. 6-13). More elongated grab marks may also be found on the extremities (Fig. 6-8). When round bruises similar to fingerprint marks are found in a linear pattern, they may be fingertip impressions or knuckle marks from punching (see Fig. 6-2, B and C). In the latter instance, one may note partial central clearing of the rounded contusions. Fingerprints or grab marks located on the thighs, especially the medial surfaces, should prompt careful examination for signs of concurrent sexual abuse. Pinching produces apposed fingerprint marks with a shape that may be reminiscent of a butterfly or figure-of-eight. These may be seen singly or in rows, usually on clothing-covered areas (Fig. 6-9).

Attempted smothering, choking, or severe and prolonged thoracic compression may produce showers of petechiae over the shoulders, neck, and face (Fig. 6-10, AD). The oral and conjunctival mucosa may be involved as well and should be carefully inspected. If a hand or other object is held forcefully over the nose and mouth of a child with erupted teeth, imprint bruises, abrasions, or lacerations left by the teeth on the labial mucosa may be noted in addition to facial petechiae (see Fig. 6-10, E). When strangulation is the mechanism, neck bruises are usually visible (see Fig. 6-10, B). These petechiae may range from florid to faint and may be especially subtle when there has been a delay in seeking care. They can be mistaken for a rash if the examiner fails to check for blanching. Failure to detect such lesions has resulted in a number of subsequent deaths.

Bruises are often seen over the curvature of the buttocks and across the lower back after severe spankings, whether with a hand or an object such as a paddle, belt, or hairbrush (Fig. 6-11). When linear marks from fingers, belt, or brush edges are seen, these tend to be horizontally or diagonally oriented (see Fig. 6-11, B). However, in some cases a linear pattern of petechiae may be noted on either side of the gluteal crease (see Fig. 6-11, C). Despite their vertical orientation, these are also the result of forceful horizontal blows across tightly tensed glutei, as when the blows are delivered, the involved sites are closely apposed along the crease and thus are subject to maximal capillary distortion on impact.

Bruises involving the abdominal wall below the rib cage and above or anterior to the pelvic girdle are rarely seen with accidental injury and are relatively unusual in cases of abuse (see Fig. 6-2, D and Fig. 6-13). This is because of the great flexibility of the abdominal wall and its padding with adipose tissue. In fact, many children with inflicted intraabdominal injuries have little or no cutaneous evidence of trauma over the abdomen, although in some cases their absence may be due to delayed presentation. When abdominal bruises are present, they are indicative of forceful grabbing or pinching or of forceful blunt impact (such as a punch or kick). In these cases, abuse should be strongly suspected and evidence of internal injury should be sought (see the section Abdominal and Intrathoracic Injuries, later; and Fig. 6-57).

In many instances the surface marks are recognizable imprints of the edge of a weapon used to inflict the injury, because the edge causes maximal capillary deformation on impact. Those most commonly seen are looped-cord marks, caused by whipping the child with a looped electrical cord (Fig. 6-12, A and B), belt and belt-buckle marks (see Fig. 6-12, C, D, and F; see also Fig. 6-11, B), and switch marks (see Fig. 6-12, E and F); but almost any implement can be used including hairbrushes (see Fig. 6-11, B), shoes (see Fig. 6-12, G and H), kitchen utensils (see Fig. 6-12, I), and chains (see Fig. 6-12, J).

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Jul 11, 2016 | Posted by in PEDIATRICS | Comments Off on Child Abuse and Neglect
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