Child Abuse Injuries: Part 1/2

I read a lot of fiction. Okay, suspense fiction. What I find missing is an area that seems to be in few books yet inherently has a lot of conflict. Child abuse. What fiction titles are you aware of that, as a central theme, center around child abuse?

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month so I thought I’d do a few posts about child abuse injuries and how medical providers pick up on the fact an injury may be intentional or inflicted.

As a pediatric nurse, I’ve been witness to child homicide at the hands of abuse. Yes, it is murder. It’s a necessary part of my job in dealing with these families, perhaps even the confessed abuser, as I care for the child abuse victim. And yes, there is a lot of conflict in these situations.

How do we as pediatric medical providers begin to suspect that an injury is abusive? During the initial evaluation of an injury, confession among abusers is rare (perhaps, they will confess later.) Often, there is a history given to account for the injury. Both parts: the history of the injury and the injury itself can give red flags for child abuse. Today, let’s examine the story and how it may signal an abusive injury.

The story concerning the injury:

1. Is not realistic considering the child’s developmental level. This is more common than you might think. Most people cannot rattle off when a child should meet certain developmental milestones so they’ll say the child injured themselves in a manner that is beyond their developmental age. For instance, “my daughter broke her arm by rolling off the couch”. The baby is two-weeks old. Infants typically roll over starting at 3 months. Here’s a great resource for any writer/parent for developmental milestones.

2. The story changes. Just like other criminals, abusers can have a hard time keeping their story straight. Often times, the more abusers are questioned about the plausibility of the story, it will begin to change. Medical staff interviewing a potential abuser can be like a detective getting a criminal to confess. The doctor will often approach the caregiver several times to ask questions about the injury to see if the story changes. In later interviews, the doctor may say, “This injury is suggestive of abuse.”

3. The story has too much detail. This one may seem odd but it can be a red flag for abusive injuries. If you have children, think back to their toddler/elementary school years when they seem to come home with lots of bumps, bruises, cuts and scrapes. If asked, could you come up with an explanation for each and every injury? Likely, no. Abusers will try and explain away every injury. A non-abusive parent will be truthful and likely say, “I have no idea how that happened.” and then probably feel guilty about not knowing.

What other parts of a medical history/story might give a signal for abusive injury?

Forensic Medical Question: Forensic MRI for Child Abuse

Susan Asks:

mri-782459_1920Is there such a thing as a forensic MRI? Not to be done on a dead person, but in a child abuse case? Can one tell if a child has been beaten and see healed bruises, etc?

Jordyn Says:

Thanks for your questions.

The only indication I can think of using MRI to discern abuse would be for head trauma. MRI is the most sensitive study when it comes to differentiating old and new bleeds (as in possibly discerning two episodes of shaking), but still an exact time of the bleed could probably not be given. We just would know there were two separate instances of injury that caused bleeding.

Also, it wouldn’t be called a forensic MRI on a live child. We would just call it by the study we’re doing. In this case, a brain MRI, but the reason for doing the study would be concern for child abuse and/or intracranial (inside the brain) bleeding.

You can’t really tell healed bruises because they’re healed after all. The skin would have normal appearance. We could at least take a history of where the bruises were because we know normal versus abnormal bruising patterns in children, but pictures are always more impressive so seeing current injuries will always be better if trying to build a child abuse case.

Perhaps you’re thinking about healed fractures which you could possibly see some evidence of healed fractured on x-rays depending on how significant the fracture was. However, not all healed fractures are visible on x-ray. Healing fractures can be seen on x-ray.