Sep 20, 2019

Doctors can sometimes struggle to identify child abuse

Team of doctors walking down a hall

Photo: Buero Monaco/Getty Images

Some pediatricians who are stationed at major hospitals across the country are working with child welfare and law enforcement officials to help protect abused children from additional harm.

Why it matters: These doctors' conclusions check out most of the time, but murky evidence can risk the breakup of innocent families when doctors misidentify child abuse, an investigation by NBC News and the Houston Chronicle found.

  • Child welfare investigations are confidential, and there is no way for the public to know how often parents lose custody.
  • Physicians carry out their own investigations and sometimes overstate the reliability of their findings, using terms like "100%" and "certain" when something is hard to prove.
  • Wronged parents have faced financial ruin or lost jobs when they fought against Child Protective Services. Children can also suffer emotionally.

The bottom line: "The reporting reveals a legal and medical system that sometimes struggles to differentiate accidental injuries from abuse, particularly in cases involving children too young to describe what happened to them."

  • Still, an estimated 1,688 children died from abuse and neglect nationally in the fiscal year 2017.

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